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Sir loshua Keviuilds, F. R. A. 

Sir Joshua Reynolds's 





litf) EUustrations 

\iTAklO COllEGV. or- A 

^ ' 100 McCAUL STREET 






By a. C. McClurg and Co. 

A. D. iSqi. 




The Advantages Proceeding from the Institution of a 
Royal Academy. — Hints offered to the Considera- 
tion OF the Professors and Visitors. — That an Im- 
plicit Obedience to the Rules of Art be exacted 
from the Young Si'udents — That a Premature Dis- 
position to a Masterly Dexterity be repressed. — 
That Diligence be constantly recommended, and 
(that it may be effectual) directed to its proper 
OBjEcr 53 


The Course and Order of Study. — The Different 
Stages of Art. — Much Copying discountenanced. — 
The Artist at all Times and in all Places should be 


His Art 63 


The great leading Principles of the Grand Style. — Of 
Beauty. — The genuine habits of Nature to be Dis- 
tinguished FROM those of Fashion 8i 


General Ideas, the presiding Principle which Regulates 


AND Drapery. — Two distinct Styles of History-paint- 
ING : THE Grand, and the Ornamental. — The Schools 
IN which Each is to be Found. — The Composite Style. — 
The Style formed on local Customs and Habits, or 
a partial View of Nature 99 


Circumspection required in Endeavoring to Unite con- 
trary Excellences. — The Expression of a mixed Pas- 
sion NOT TO BE Attempted. — Examples of Those who 
Excelled in the great Style. — Raphael, Michael An- 
gelo, those two extraordinary men compared with 
Each Other. — The Characteristical Style. — Salvator 
Rosa mentioned as an Example of that Style ; and Op- 
posed TO Carlo Maratti. — Sketch of the Characters 
of Poussin and Rubens. — These two Painters entirely 
Dissimilar, but Consistent with Themselves. — This 
Consistency required in All Parts of the Art. . . 123 


Imitation. — Genius begins where Rules end. — Inven- 
tion : acquired by being Conversant with the Inven- 
tions of Others. — The true Method of Imitating. — 
Borrowing, how far Allowable. — Something to be 
Gathered from every School 143 


The Reality of a Standard of Taste, as well as of Cor- 
poral Beauty. — Besides this Immediate Truth, there 
are Secondary Truths, which are Variable ; Both 
requiring the Attention of the Artist, in Proportion 
TO Their Stability or Their Influence 171 



Thk Principles of Art, whether Poetry or Painting, 
HAVE their Foundation in the Mind; .such as Nov- 
elty, Variety, and Contrast; these in their Excess 
become Defects. — Simplicity, its excess Disagreea- 
ble. — Rules not to be always observed in their Lite- 
ral Sense: sufficient to PRESEi^VE the Spirit of the 
Law. — Observations on the Prize Pictures 207 


On the Removal of the Royal Academy to Somerset 
Place. — the Advantages to Society from Cultivat- 
ing Intellectual Pleasure 237 


Sculpture: — has but one Style. — Its Objects, Form, and 
Character. — ineffectual Attempts of the Modern 
Sculptors to Improve the Art. — III Effects of 
Modern Dress in Sculpture 241 


Genius, — consists principally in the Comprehension of a 
Whole ; in taking General Ideas ONLY 259 

Particular methods of Study of little Consequence. — 


OFTEN A Love of Idleness. — Pittori Improvvisatori apt 
TO be Careless and Incorrect; seldom Original and 
Spriking. — this proceeds from their not Studying the 
Works of other Masters 279 


Art not merely Imitation, but under the Direction of 
THE Imagination. — In what manner Poetry, Painting, 
Acting, Gardening, and Architecture, depart from 
Nature 305 



Character of Gainsborough. — His Excellences and 
Defects 327 


The President takes leave of the Academy. — A Review 
OF THE Discourses. — The Study of the Works of 
Michael Angelo recommended 349 


Sir Joshua Reynolds, P. R. A Frontispiece 

Miss Nelly O'Brien To face page 13 

Schoolboys (John Bellenden and Henry Gawler) 17 

Sir W. Hamilton 33 

Lady Charles Spencer 39 

Mrs. SiDDONs as the Tragic Muse ...... 53 

The Age of Innocence 63 

Miss Kitty Fisher as Cleopatra 81 

Lady Sophia St. Asaph and Child 99 

Mrs. Merrick 123 

Mrs. Lucy H.a.rdinge 143 

Lady Louisa Manners (Countess Dvsart) . . . 171 

Mrs. Robinson 207 

Sir Joseph Banks 237 

St. Agnes 241 

Mrs. Ann Hope 259 

Master Jacob Bouverie (afterwards Earl of 

Radnor, 1776) 279 

Mrs. Billington as St. Cecilia 305 

Miss Nelly O'Brien 327 

John, Earl of Upper Ossory 349 


The regular progress of cultivated life is from necessaries 
to accommodations, from accommodations to ornaments. By 
your illustrious predecessors were established Marts for manu- 
factures, and Colleges for science; but for the arts of elegance, 
those arts by which manufactures are embellished, and science 
is refined, to found an Academy was reserved for your Majesty. 

Had such patronage been without effect, there had been 
reason to believe that Nature had, by some insurmountable 
impediment, obstructed our proficiency; but the annual im- 
provement of the Exhibitions which Your Majesty has been 
pleased to encourage shows that only encouragement had been 

To give advice to those who are contending for royal liber- 
ality has been for some years the duty of my station in the 
Academy; and these Discourses hope for Your Majesty's 
acceptance, as well-intended endeavors to incite that emulation 
which your notice has kindled, and direct those studies which 
your bounty has rewarded. 

May it please Your Majesty, 

Your Majesty's 

Most dutiful servant 

And most faithful subject, 






That you have ordered the publication of this discourse is 
not only very flattering to me, as it implies your approbation of 
the method of study which I have recommended, but likewise, 
as this method receives from that act such an additional weight 
and authority as demands from the students that deference 
and respect which can be due only to the united sense of so 
considerable a Body of Artists. 

I am, 
With the greatest esteem and respect, 

Your most humble, 

And obedient Servant, 


M/s-s Nellv (rBiieii. 


ALTHOUGH Sir Joshua Reynolds contributed more 
perhaps than any other one man to the elevation and 
reputation of the art of his country, the title of " founder 
of the English school," sometimes bestowed upon him, im- 
plies a distinction to which he is not justly entitled. The 
expression is in itself a loose one ; doubly so as applied to 
Reynolds, who, though he left successors — more or less 
attenuated — in portraiture, as well as in his less frequent 
flights into ideal and historical painting, formed no school ; 
and essentially so, because there is not, strictly speaking, 
and in the sense in which we speak of the several Italian 
schools or of the Dutch or Flemish schools, an English 
school of painting at all. The term "school " as thus used 
has a special and technical sense, embracing the common 
methods of technique, the special traditions and processes 
tending to the production of one general type of picture or 
fixed national ideal, to which painters of the same age and 
country have been constrained to submit ; and the rise of a 
school of painting implies a general diffusion of artistic 
taste, and a close system of training and apprenticeship 
such as have never prevailed in England. The English 
painter, after leaving the academy schools, is generally free 
to follow his personal bent ; and no art owes more to indi- 
vidual initiative and less to the cumulative force of consist- 
ent principle and tradition than English art. To say, then, 


that this or that painter is of the English school means lit- 
tle more than that he is an English painter, — not that he is 
one who in his work carries out certain national conventions 
and processes, for these have not as yet been developed in 

Still, while England has not, in the confined sense, 
evolved a school of painting, while her art is, consequently, 
richly varied, " full of surprises and unexpected originality," 
and not, indeed, free from that " mania of eccentricity " 
remarked by the foreigner, its productions, stamped through- 
out with the genius of the race, form a connected and con- 
siderable whole. Lacking in the academic uniformity 
which springs from a consistent aim and a fixed ideal, 
English painting, like English literature, presents through 
all its contrasts of form a marked national character. 
" From whatever side one regards it," observes a recent 
French critic,^ " the English school always discloses some 
idiosyncracy peculiar to the ordinary British mind ; " and 
it is hardly necessary to add that the " ordinary British 
mind " has not an aesthetic bent ; that it must be appealed 
to on other, and, as it holds, higher and more " serious " 
grounds than that innate feeling for harmony and sensuous 
beauty characteristic of the Latin races. " The prosaic 
British mind," said Emerson, " seeks the prose in nature." 
Purely decorative and sensuous forms of art, the sponta- 
neous outgrowth of the southern temperament, are exotics 
in England ; and no system of hot- house forcing and 
observance of patent method and recipe have produced 
there anything but the feeblest reflection of the theological 
and " historical " painting of the Latin schools. 

Seeking for the prevailing tendency of English painters 
as a body, one may say that it is to impute to their art the 
special office of language, — to make the picture unduly 

.n 1 M. Chcsncau, The English School of Painting. 


subsidiary to the thought expressed or fact described ; and 
it is in the branches which allow this tendency freest play 
— in pictorial narrative, genre and historical-^^^;?;r, and in 
literary illustration — that English art is notably profuse ; 
while even in portraiture and landscape the aim is rarely a 
purely aesthetic one, the painter's success depending, says 
Ruskin, " on his desire to convey a truth, rather than to 
produce a merely beautiful picture, — that is to say, to get a 
likeness of a man or of a place." The predominance of 
the moral element, too, is as noticeable in the national art 
as in the national literature, — English painters, like Eng- 
lish novelists and playwrights, rarely failing in some degree 
to point the moral while adorning the tale. 

Such being the general characteristics, it is not difficult 
to name the early master whose work bears the closest 
affinity to the great body of English art. Hogarth, not 
Reynolds, is the Giotto of the "school," — the first native 
painter who shook off foreign influences and ideals and 
held up to the life around him " Nature's unflatt'ring glass." 
And he is as English in aim as in subject. Hogarth was 
not sensitive to beauty, in art or nature ; and the stray 
touches of it that one finds in his works — a turn of expres- 
sion, an attitude, a face here and there — are not of his 
seeking, still less of his producing ; they exist on the can- 
vas because they existed in the model. He ministered to 
the pleasures of his countrymen only in so far as they could 
take pleasure in laughing at the national humors and con- 
demning the national vices. Like his literary prototype, he 
used his art to — 

"strip the ragged follies of the time 
Naked as at their birth . , . and with a whip of steel 
Print wounding lashes on their iron ribs." 

" His graphic representations," said Charles Lamb, " are 
indeed books ; they have the teeming, fruitful, suggestive 


meaning of words. Other pictures we look at, — his we 

How different all this from Reynolds, — a true painter's 
painter who sought to delight the eye even at the expense 
of a little gentle flattery, " discreetly touched, just enough 
to make all men noble, all women lovely." His superb 
portraits, " Italian music set to English words," are antholo- 
gies of the beauties of his sitters and of the lighter graces 
of the old masters. In aim and accomplishment he is the 
least English, as the moralizing bluntly truthful Hogarth is 
the most English, of painters ; and his artistic charm is an 
essence distilled from flowers gathered in fields where the 
founder of British painting never trod. Reynolds's incense 
is ever burning at the shrines of the great Italians whose 
names adorn his Discourses. " Even when painting the 
most graceful lady, the most English — in other words the 
brightest and freshest — of boys, he never becomes so lost 
m his model as to forget the old masters." ' 

Reynolds's art, rich as it was in the results of personal 
observation of nature, was a forced but magnificent hot- 
house growth, exotic and necessarily ephemeral ; that of 
Hogarth was a hardy native plant, which sprang from the 
soil and throve and multiplied in a fit environment ; and 
the homely truth, the fondness for everyday life, the turn 
for humor, satire, and narrative that prevail in English art 
to-day were first manifest in "The Harlot's Progress." 

In fixing the rise of English painting proper with Hogarth, 
it is not, of course, meant that before him the art was un- 
known in England, or that no Englishman had practised it. 
English art begins under him, as every national art begins, 
with reflecting the life and temper of the times ; yet he 
learned the rudiments of his profession from an Englishman 
and a Londoner. The monastery was the cradle of the arts 

' M. Chesneau, The English School of Pninting. 


[John P.'lletidfu ami /fi-urv r,V?7,Vrr). 


in England ; and the real first fruits of the artistic instincts 
of the race are to be found in the relics of that school of 
illuminators who from an early date, possibly the beginning 
of the seventh century, until the suppression of the monas- 
tic houses, were employed in the decoration of breviaries, 
missals, and other religious books, confining their efforts at 
first to ornate capitals and painted and gilded letters, then 
essaying borders of flowers, foliage, etc., and finally ventur- 
ing upon text illustrations and miniatures,^ the latter usually 
portraits of those to whom the work was to be given. 

Later and more ambitious attempts may be seen in the 
Gothic cathedrals and on the walls of the Chapter House 
at Westminster. These works, done in the thirteenth cen- 
tury, compare not unfavorably with similar contemporary 
productions of France, Italy, and the Netherlands. With 
the next century came a complete pause in English picto- 
rial art, not to be broken until the splendid revival under 
George III. For this long term of sterility it is difficult 
to account ; especially so for the fact that a period which 
produced Shakspeare (I may cautiously add, and Bacon) 
and his brilliant following should not have boasted at least 
a Holbein or a Van Dyck. Mr. Ruskin suggests, among 
kindred reasons, a lack of mountains ; but as the Dutch 
and Flemings seem to have done very well without them, 
and as the want was certainly not supplied in the day of 
Reynolds and Gainsborough, we may ascribe the pause 
rather to the unfavorable social conditions brought about 
by the French wars and the Wars of the Roses, to the chill- 
ing influence of early Protestantism, and to the influx of a 
long line of foreign painters, who set the mode and warped 

' " The word ' miniatura ' in its original sense Iiad no reference to 
tlie size of the work, being derived from the Latin word minium, 
signifying red lead, in which material all the headings, capital letters, 
etc., of the most ancient MSS. were drawn." — J. L. Propert, History 
of Miniature Art. 



or repressed the native talent. It is mainly in the lives 
of these foreigners that the history of English art from 
Henry III. (12^6-1292) down to the second quarter of 
the eighteenth century is to be read. 

The first of them whom we need mention is Jean de 
jMabuse, a Fleming, who drifted into England rather un- 
accountably during the reign of Henry VIL, a monarch 
little given to munificence. " He reigned," says Walpole, 
" as an attorney would have reigned, and would have pre- 
ferred a conveyancer to Praxiteles." 

Of a very different temper was Henry VIII. , a liberal, 
ostentatious prince, whose bounty attracted and sustained 
several foreign painters of merit, notably the great Holbein, 
— a man in whom universality of talent did not preclude 
special excellence. As a portrait painter he is, take him 
all in all, unsurpassed ; while his " Madonna " at Darmstadt 
is one of the glories of religious art. Henry's high opinion 
of him is recorded in his rebuke to a courtier who had in- 
sulted the painter : " You have not to do with Holbein, but 
with me ; and I tell you that of seven peasants I can make 
seven lords, but not one Holbein." Holbein's superb por- 
traits are usually models of accuracy, — a quality which on 
one occasion he rashly disregarded. Henry having deter- 
mined to take a fourth wife, Anne of Cleves was selected as 
the candidate for decapitation, and Holbein was despatched 
by Thomas Cromwell, who favored the match, to paint her 
portrait. In obedience to the minister he grossly flattered 
his model ; so that Henry, who was completely taken in, 
upon seeing the original landing at Dover, roared out in 
disgust, " She is a great Flanders mare ! " and wanted to 
send her back to Germany. Cromwell paid for the deceit 
with his head, but Holbein escaped unnoticed. Henry's 
patronage of the arts was due, not so much to his love for 
or appreciation of them, as to his emulation of FVancis I. ; 
and the crudity of his own ideas, as well as the state of the 


public taste at the time, may be inferred from the directions 
he left for a monument to his memory. The note directs 
that " the king shall appear on horseback of the stature of a 
goodly man, while over him shall appear the image of God 
the Father, holding the king's soul in his left hand and his 
right extended in the act of benediction," — a conceit which 
proves at least the royal faith in the capabilities of art. 

Under the reign of Edward VI., a minor prince, and 
amidst a struggle of religions, the arts were in abeyance, 
nobody having leisure to patronize, practise, or record them. 
Holbein v/as, however, still alive, and he drew several por- 
traits of the young king. 

The reign of Mary, though shorter even than that of her 
brother, is more considerable in the annals of painting. Her 
favorite painter was Antonio Moro, who had been sent to 
England by Charles V. Many of his English portraits, 
painted in the realistic manner of Holbein, and fine exam- 
ples of color, are extant. Moro was a striking figure at the 
Spanish court, to which he returned after Mary's death. 
Though a courtier as well as painter he lacked discretion, 
even venturing upon familiarities with such a tiger as 
Philip n. One day while Moro was at work, Philip, who 
was looking on, rested his arm on the shoulder of the 
painter, who, to the dismay of surrounding flunkeydom, 
dipped his brush in carmine and with it smeared the royal 
hand. The king surv-eyed the member seriously a while, 
and in that moment of suspense the fate of Moro balanced 
on a hair; but caprice, perhaps even pity, turned the 
scale, and Philip passed the silly jest off with a smile of 

The long and eventful reign of Elizabeth is almost a blank 
in the history of art, the royal taste for painting extending 
only to representations of her own dubious charms. .Art 
could flatter ; therefore she employed it. It is only fair to 
the profession, however, to add that there is not a single 


portrait of Elizabeth that can be called beautiful, — the 
"Virgin Queen" serving, in general, as a mere lay figure 
for the display of robes and trinkets — "like an Indian idol, 
all hands and necklaces," says the sarcastic Walpole. " A 
pale Roman nose, a head of hair loaded with crowns and 
powdered with diamonds, a vast ruff, a vaster fardingale, 
and a bushel of pearls are the features by which everybody 
knows at once the pictures of Queen Elizabeth." Her 
chief painters were the Italian Zuccaro, the Flemings De 
Heere and Hetel, and the Englishman Isaac Oliver, a mini- 
ature painter unrivalled in England, save by his own son 
Peter, and later, Cooper, a pupil of Van Dyck. Elizabeth's 
appetite for flattery is shown in a curious portrait of her by 
De Heere. She is represented as coming out of a palace, 
" in maiden meditation, fancy free," with her crown, sceptre, 
and globe, and two female attendants. Before 'her, flying 
in dismay from her combined charms, are Juno, Venus, and 
Minerva ; Juno drops her sceptre, Venus her roses, while 
Cupid, abashed, perhaps, before such adamantine virtue, 
flings away his bow and arrows and clings to his mother. 

Luckily for the arts, James I., a tasteless pedant, was not 
disposed to meddle with them, and he may be dismissed 
v/ith a quotation from Hayley : — 

"James, both for empire and for arts unfit 
(His sense a quibble, and a pun his wit), 
Whatever works he patronized, del)ased ; 
But haply left the pencil undisgraced." 

The accession of Charles I. marks the first era of real 
taste in England. Elizabeth was avaricious and pompous. 
James I. lavish and mean. Charles I., a scholar, a man of 
taste, and a gentleman, knew how and where to bestow, 
encouraging men of the first merit only, and these abun- 
dantly. Jones was his architect, and Van Dyck his painter ; 
he royally entertained and employed Rubens, and purchased 
the cartoons of Raphael. " The art of reigning was the 


only art of which he was ignorant." To the taste and en- 
lightened liberality of Charles I. England owes some of her 
choicest treasures. 

The arts were virtually banished from England with the 
royal family, and the restoration brought them back — but 
not taste. Charles II. had, in addition to his turn for gal- 
lantry, a turn for the sciences, but none for art. His chief 
painter was Sir Peter Lely, a Westphalian, an artist of ques- 
tionable taste but talented, a favorite with the ladies, whom 
he flattered liberally. He is well represented in the collec- 
tion of portraits at Hampton Court, where a bevy of Charles's 
Paphian beauties, their charms half hidden in " a sort of 
fantastic night-gowns fastened with a single pin," look down 
in a most un- Puritan way upon the visitor. Lely was not 
always called upon to flatter. When Cromwell sat to him 
he said, " Mr. Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to 
paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all ; 
but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and every- 
thing as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing 
for it " — a command which was literally obeyed. Lely 
died in 1680, and was succeeded by Godfrey Kneller, of 
Liibeck, who reigned supreme in English portraiture until 
his death in 1723, the year of Sir Joshua Reynolds's birth. 
Kneller was a painter of varied instruction, of some talent 
and even originality, but his influence was, on the whole, 
debasing to the national taste. He preferred portrait paint- 
ing, for, as he said, "painters of history make the dead live, 
and do not begin to live themselves till they are dead. I 
paint the living and they make me live," — a characteristic 
reason, for, as Walpole states, " where he ofl"ered one pict- 
ure to fame, he sacrificed twenty to lucre." He is even 
charged with the meanness of selling copies of his pictures 
for originals. 

Many anecdotes are related of Kneller's excessive vanity. 
He once said to a low fellow whom he overheard cursing 


himself : " God d you ! God may d the Duke of 

Marlborough, and perhaps Sir Godfrey Kneller ; but do you 

til ink he will take the trouble of d g such a scoundrel as 

you?" Pope used to say, " Have you heard Sir Godfrey's 
dream? I thought I had ascended a very high hill to 
heaven, and saw Saint Peter at the gate with a great crowd 
behind him. When arrived there Saint Luke ^ immediately 
descried me, and asked if I were not the famous Sir God- 
frey Kneller? We had a long conversation about our be- 
loved art, and I had forgotten all about Saint Peter, who 
called out to me, ' Sir Godfrey, enter in, and take whatever 
station you like best.' " " Pope was once badly v/orsted in 
an encounter with the witty painter. Having laid a wager 
that there was no flattery so gross but that Kneller would 
swallow it, he said to him as he was painting, '' Sir Godfrey, 
I believe if God Almighty had had your assistance, the 
world would have been formed more perfect." "'Fore 
God, sir," replied Kneller, " I believe so ! " and he laid at 
the same time his hand gently upon the poet's deformed 
shoulder. Kneller lived through the reigns of Charles II., 
James II., William and Mary, Anne, and George I. who 
knighted him. 

Naturally the presence in England of so many foreign 
painters of merit was not without its effect in stimulating 
and awakening the native talent ; and there had been all 
along native artists, some of them " painters to the King," 
such as were Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619) and Isaac 
Oliver (1555-1617), the celebrated miniature painters; 
George Jamesone (1586-1644), called by Walpole "the 

^ The patron saint of painters. 

'^ Sir Godfrey, vain as he was, was a modest man compared with 
his contemporary, Jervas. It is related of this poor dauber that, hav- 
ing copied, and as he thought, surpassed, a picture of Titian, he looked 
first at one and then at the other, exclaiming with parental compla- 
cency, " Pour little Tit ! how he would stare ! " 


Scottish Van Dyck ; " William Dobson (1610-1646), 
called by Charles his " English Tintoret ; " Robert Walker, 
Cromwell's painter; Richard Gibson (16 15-1690), the 
dwarf; and Robert Streater ^ (1624-1680). These men, 
however, were successful only as clever imitators of the 
ruling style ; they were content to follow, without a thought 
of emulating, much less of innovating ; and it was only 
when patrons saw that painting was not, in the nature of 
things, extraneous, that it might be independently practised 
and improved by their own countrymen, that native art had 
a chance of free development. In Anne's reign Sir James 
Thornhill was elected over his competitor, the Italian 
Ricci, to paint the dome of St. Paul's ; and henceforth 
Englishmen began to hold the field. Sir James Thornhill 
was Hogarth's father-in-law, and Hogarth was, as we have 
seen, the Ciiotto of the '* school," the first native painter 
whose work bears upon it " the strong stamp of the native 

Endeavoring to state more specifically the genealogies of 
English painting, we may say that in so far as it treats the 
incidents and philosophy of social life it flows, through 
Wilkie, Mulready, Leslie, and the older genre painters, 
direct from Hogarth, — whose art, minus its satirical and 
narrative spirit, was a heritage from the Dutch ; English 
landscape takes its origin from Wilson and Gainsborough, 
and English portraiture from Reynolds. With Hogarth, 

1 Streater was the painter wliose decoration of the Oxford theatre 
inspired the silly panegyric, — 

" That future ages must confess they owe 
To Streater more than Michael Angelo." 

Graham called him "the greatest and most universal painter that 
England ever had;" and says that his being a good historian con- 
tributed not a little to his being a good historical painter; upon 
which Walpole tartly remarks, " He might as well say that reading 
the T<.ape of the Lock' would make one a good haircutter." 


Reynolds, and Gainsborough we reach the grand period of 
English art ; and we may turn from following its general 
course to a brief sketch of its chief luminary. 

The life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, prince of portrait paint- 
ers and most affable of men, was free from instances of that 
instability and unfitness for the ordinary business of life 
which proverbially mark the children of genius, and were so 
amusingly shown in his friend Goldsmith. Sir Joshua's 
success was two-fold ; he was the successful man as well as 
the successful painter, his career throughout supporting his 
own theory that effects commonly ascribed to innate powers, 
or " genius," are really due to unremitting, well-directed 

He was born, July i6, 1723, at Plympton, Devonshire, 
where his father, the Reverend Samuel Reynolds (a " Par- 
son Adams " in real Ufe), rector of the Plympton grammar- 
school, initiated him into those classical studies which, 
later, contributed to the refinement and grace of his pencil. 
He early discovered an inclination for his art — to the dis- 
satisfaction of his father who would have made him an 
apothecary — by diligently copying the prints that fell in 
his way, notably those in Cats's " Book of Emblems " and 
Plutarch's " Lives," and by mastering and applying, while 
in his eighth year, the Jesuit's " Rules of Perspective," and, 
afterwards, Richardson's " Theory of Painting." Overborne 
by the advice of friends the senior Reynolds was, in 1 740, 
mduced to yield to his son's preference of the palette and 
brush over the mortar and pestle ; and Joshua was sent to 
London and placed under the tuition of Hudson, a portrait 
painter of more vogue and pretension than merit. Under 
this barren source of instruction, however, he rapidly over- 
took his master, who did not, it seems, like Cimabue in a 
similar case, 

" smile upon the lad 
At the first stroke which passed what he could do." 


but, on the contrary, soon contrived to make things so un- 
pleasant for the too promising pupil that he remained in 
the studio but two of the four years for which he was 
bound, returning in 1 743 to Devonshire, and setting up for 
himself as portrait painter. He settled at Plymouth, where 
he met with prompt and unexpected success, painting some 
thirty portraits, and finding patrons whose good offices 
secured his future success. At this period he derived great 
benefit from the works and practical hints of William 
Gandy, of ICxeter, a fine colorist whose father had been a 
pupil of Van Dyck. One of Candy's maxims, never for- 
gotten by Sir Joshua, was that " a picture ought to have a 
richness in its texture, as if the, colors had been composed 
of cream or cheese, and the reverse of a hard and husky or 
dry manner." 

While at Plymouth Reynolds saw his early dream of one 
day visiting the painter's Parnassus, the land of Raphael 
and Michael Angelo, shape itself into reality. Commodore 
Keppel, to whom he had been recommended by Lord 
Edgecombe, his life-long friend and patron, being appointed 
to the Mediterranean station, invited the young painter to 
accompany him, and he sailed from Plymouth early in 
1749, and on his arrival at Leghorn proceeded to Rome, 
whence he reported, " I am now at the height of my wishes, 
in the midst of the greatest works of art that the world has 

Reynolds's practice and habit of study during his two 
years in Rome were regulated by the soundest judgment. 
Seeking truth, taste, and beauty at the fountain-head, he 
diligently copied, sketched, and mentally analyzed such 
portions of the works of Raphael, Michael Angelo, Cuido, 
Titian, Veronese, and many others, as seemed to him to 
bear most directly upon his chosen branch, rarely copying 
the whole of a picture, but endeavoring to fix in his mind 
the peculiar excellence of each ; aspiring to the concep- 


tions of the master as well as analyzing his processes, and 
studying the masterpieces in the Vatican for their subjec- 
tive effect rather than with the view of carrying them away 
piecemeal for future recombination, — though, as his notes 
and his whole theory and practice show, the borrowing and 
transplanting of the ideas of others was as little abhorrent 
to his artistic conscience as to Raphael's. 

It need not surprise us that Reynolds's first feeling on 
viewing the wonders of Italian art was one of disappoint- 
ment, — especially when we reflect that the processes 
which in our day multiply masterpieces on every hand 
were unknown in his. Works conceived and wrought out 
in the spirit of noble simplicity and quiet dignity of the 
Greek sculptures — the true school of Michael Angelo and 
Raphael — seemed to him lacking in precisely those quali- 
ties, richness of color and striking effects of light and shade, 
which he had been used to regard as the crowning excel- 
lences of painting. The rhapsodies of Richardson had 
prepared him to be dazzled, like Saul of Tarsus, by a blaze 
of visual splendor ; and, his ideals not reaching beyond the 
showy effects of the painter's rhetoric, he did not at once 
perceive the less obvious qualities which place the works of 
Raphael and Michael Angelo beside those of poets and 
philosophers. Among his notes Reynolds left the following 
ingenuous account of his first visit to the Vatican ; and 
certainly no portion of his writings is more instructive and 
more characteristic of their author : — 

" It has frequently happened, as I was informed by the 
keeper of the Vatican, that many of those whom he had con- 
ducted through the various apartments of that edifice, when 
about to be dismissed, have asked for the works of Raphael, 
and would not believe that they had already passed through the 
rooms where they are preserved ; so little impression had these 
performances made on them. One of the first painters in 
France told me that this circumstance happened to himself; 


though he now looks on Raphael with that veneration which he 
deserves from all painters and lovers of art. I remember very 
well my own disappointment when I first visited the Vatican ; 
but on confessing my feelings to a brother student, of whose 
ingenuousness I had a high opinion, he acknowleged that the 
works of Raphael had the same effect on him ; or rather, that 
they did not produce the effect which he expected. This was a 
great relief to my mind ; and, on inquiring farther of other 
students, I found that those persons only who from natural 
imbecility appeared to be incapable of ever relishing these 
divine performances, made pretensions to instantaneous rap- 
tures on first beholding them. In justice to myself, however, I 
must add that, though disappointed and mortified at not finding 
myself enraptured with the works of this great master, I did not 
for a moment conceive or suppose that the name of Raphael 
and those admirable paintings in particular owed their reputa- 
tion to the ignorance and prejudice of mankind ; on the con- 
trary, my not relishing them as I was conscious I ought to have 
done was one of the most humiliating things that ever haj)- 
pened to me. I found myself in the midst of works executed 
upon principles witli ivJiich I was unacquainted. I felt my 
ignorance, and stood abashed. 

" All the indigested notions of painting which I had brought 
with me from England, where the art was at the lowest ebb — 
it could not indeed be lower — were to be totally done away 
with and eradicated from my mind. It was necessary, as it is 
expressed on a very solemn occasion, that I should become as a 
little child. Notwithstanding my disappointment, I proceeded 
to copy some of those excellent works. I viewed them again 
and again; I even affected to feel their merits and to admire 
them more than I really did. In a short time a new taste and 
new perceptions began to dawn upon me, and I was convinced 
that I had originally formed tl false opinion of t/ie perfection of 
art, and that this great painter was well entitled to the high 
rank which he holds in the estimation of the world. 

" The truth is that if these works had been really what I ex- 
pected, they would have contained beauties superficial and 
alluring, but by no means such as would have entitled them 
to the great reputation which they have long and so justly 


" Having since that period frequently revolved the subject in 
my mind, I am now clearly of opinion that a relish for the 
higher excellences of the art is an acquired taste, which no man 
ever possessed without long cultivation and great labor and at- 
tention. On such occasions as that which I have mentioned 
we are often ashamed of our apparent dulness, as if it were 
expected that our minds, like tinder, should instantly catch fire 
from the divine spark of Raphael's genius. I flatter myself 
that 7101U it would be so, and that I have a just perception of 
his great powers; but let it be remembered that the. excellence 
of his style is not on the surface, but lies deep, and at the first 
view is seen but mistily. It is the florid style which strikes at 
once, and captivates the eye for a time, without ever satisfying 
the judgment. Nor does painting in this respect differ from 
other arts. A just poetical taste, and the acquisition of a nice 
discriminative ear, are equally the work of time. Even the eye, 
however perfect in itself, is often unable to distinguish between 
the brilliancy of two diamonds, though the experienced jeweller 
will be amazed at its blindness, — not considering that there was 
a time when he himself could not have been able to pronounce 
which of the two was the most perfect, and that his own power 
of discrimination was acquired by slow and imperceptible 

As already stated, Sir Joshua, while in Rome, by no 
means neglected the executive parts of his art, but was at 
the utmost pains to discover and acquire the various arti- 
fices by which the great masters had obtained their effects ; 
and I may say parenthetically that although he seems at 
times in his discourses disposed to belittle technical skil', 
no one more thoroughly knew its vital importance or owed 
more to its effects than himself. That he was, theoreti- 
cally, so determined a stickler for the intellectual in art 
may be regarded as the outcome, in a measure, of his de- 
bates with the jealous Johnson, who, with characteristic 
urbanity, pretended to despise his friend's profession as a 
handicraft. Critics are apt enough to undervalue those 
accomplishments of which they know least; and had the 


doctor himself made a serious practical essay with the 
pencil he must have discovered that the " handicraft " 
which painting certainly includes implies in itself, when 
fully attained, a rare combination of mental and physical 
gifts, — gifts in which, by the way, the short-sighted and un- 
pliable philosopher was himself eminently deficient. That 
Reynolds, though his chief aim at this period was to grasp 
the conceptions and imbibe something of the spirit of the 
great masters, did not overlook those details which are, 
after all, the blood, bone, and sinew of his calling, is shown 
in his voluminous notes, a specimen or two of which may be 
quoted as illustrative of his methods : — 

"The Adonis of Titian in the Colonna palace is dead colored 
whit^, with the muscles marked bold; the second painting he 
scumbled a light color over it; the lights a mellow flesh color; 
the shadows, in the light parts, of a faint purple hue ; at least 
they were so at first. That purple hue seems to be occasioned 
by blackish shadows under, and the color scumbled over them. 

"I copied the Titian in the Colonna collection with white, 
umber, minio, cinnabar, black; the shadows thin of color, 
perhaps little more than the dark ground left. 

"In respect to painting the flesh tint, after it has been finished 
with very strong colors, such as ultramarine and carmine, pass 
white over it, very thin with oil. I believe it will have a won- 
derful effect. 

"Or paint carnation too red. and then scumble it over with 
white and black. 

"Then dead color with white and black only; at second sit- 
ting, carnation. (To wit, the Barocci at the palace Albani, and 
Correggio in the Pamphili.)^ 

1 In Reynolds's memoranda of December, 1755, we find the follow- 
ing record of the colors which he then made use of, and of the order in 
which they were arranged on his palette : — 

" For painting the flesh : black, blue-black, white, lake, carmine, 
orpiment, yellow ochre, ultramarine, and varnish. 

"To lay the palette, first lay carmine and white, in different 


"Avoid the chalk, the brick-dust, and the charcoal; and 

think on a pearl or a ripe peach."' ^ 


Thus Reynolds, while in Rome, " forged for his own use 
an armory of weapons, a magazine of rules and well-tried 
systems." Regarding, as he did, a great work of art, not 
as the reflection of a fitful, half-fortuitous flash of innate 
genius or " inspiration," but as the forced fruit of deliberate 
method and selection, he used his gleanings from the old 
masters as material to be reduced into fixed and definite 
principles for his own future guidance. 

On leaving Rome he visited other Italian cities, Parma, 
where he fell under Correggio's influence, Florence, Venice, 
where he remained six weeks studying the great colorists 
upon whose works his own style was chiefly founded. ^ 

He had now been absent from England about three 
years, when he began to think of returning. He arrived in 
London in 1752, and took rooms in St. Martin's Lane, 
afterwards removing to the large house on Newport Street 
where he remained until his final removal to Leicester 

English art, as a national art, had already begun, as we 
have seen, under Hogarth ; and it remained for the genius 
of Reynolds to mature and elevate it, — his influence ex- 
tending more direcdy, of course, to his peculiar branch. 
That Sir Joshua, with his leaning toward what he called 
" the grand style," chose portraiture as his profession was 
due partly to his consciousness of an ignorance of anatomy 
which made it impossible for him at any period of his life 

degrees ; second, lay orpiment and white, ditto; third, lay blue-black 
and white, ditto. 

"The first sitting, for expedition, make a mixture on the palette as 
near the sitter's complexion as yon cnn." 

^ An agreeable variation from the prosaic Gandy's " cream or 

■^ His style " is precisely that denominated in his lectures the orna- 
mental style." — Thomas Phillits, K. A., Rces's Cyclopcvdia. 


to draw the nude figure accurately, and partly to the fact 
that portrait painting was in England then the only path to 
substantial success. His propensity for ideal and historical 
painting, however, made him ambitious of infusing some- 
thing of its variety and picturesqueness into his chosen 
branch, and it was largely to this ambition that his supe- 
riority and the novelty of his style were due. At the period 
of his return the rapacity of Kneller and the affectations of 
Lely had contributed to reduce portraiture to its lowest ebb. 
Hogarth had already passed his prime, Wilson and Gains- 
borough were painting landscape, Hudson and a few others 
were making likenesses of the wooden, sign-post order. 
The art of elevating a portrait — by the addition of pleas- 
ing and suggestive accessories and by imparting life, 
character, and action to the figure — from a bald likeness 
into a true picture, a work charming and interesting irre- 
spective of the name and condition of the sitter, was un- 
known or forgotten. So far as they had gone, it was the 
Dutch side, the purely imitative side of their talent, that 
English painters had developed ; and painting was with 
them the merest mechanical operation, uninformed by taste, 
a simple transferring of the object before them to the can- 
vas, without reference to an animated or pleasing effect. 
If the painter chanced to be a man of unusually exuberant 
fancy, he modified the dress of the sitter, or, perhaps, by 
adding a sheep, or a dog, or a crook, aspired to the pas- 
toral. But such flights, inspired by Lely, were rare ; and 
the artist was commonly content to hand his patrons down 
to posterity, fishily staring, in the hats and wigs they 
usually wore. 

The advent of Reynolds, equipped with the weapons and 
fired with the spirit of a higher school, revealed to his 
countrymen possibilities in the art hitherto undreamed of 
by them. His portraits were entirely unlike the vapid per- 
formances — mere transcripts of the sitter's outer shell — to 


which they were accustomed. By placing his figures in the 
midst of active Ufe, by revealing the individuality in the 
mind and form of each, and by surrounding them with ap- 
propriate circumstances and speaking details, he imparted 
to his portraits a spirit and attractiveness, an element of 
general and lasting interest, that seemed to raise them to 
the dignity of a higher branch of art. " They remind the 
spectator," said Burke, " of the invention of history, and 
the amenity of landscape. In painting portraits he appeared 
not to be raised upon that platform, but to descend to it 
from a higher sphere." 

Naturally, such expansive ideas did not at first hit the 
taste of the town. The jealousy of competitors — notably 
of his old master Hudson, who, on seeing one of his pieces, 
exclaimed, " Reynolds, you don't paint so well now as you 
did before you went to Italy," — and the prepossession in 
favor of Kneller and Lely were not easily overcome. Ellis, 
an eminent painter of the time, on seeing the picture which 
had displeased Hudson, was equally dissatisfied, or alarmed, 
and observed, with a prophetic shake of the head, " Oh, 
Reynolds, this will never answer ; why, you don't paint in 
the least degree in the m.anner of Kneller ; " and when the 
young artist began to vindicate his methods, the veteran, 
finding himself unable to defend his position logically, cried 
out in a rage, " Shakspeare in poetry, and Kneller in paint- 
ing, damme ! " and immediately left the room. 

But the scale was finally and decisively turned when Rey- 
nolds exhibited his portrait of Commodore Keppel, — a work 
of such truth and spirit, combined with richness of color and 
picturesque general effect, as to silence disparagement. Al- 
luding to this portrait Malone has observed : " The whole 
interval between the time of Charles I. and the conclusion 
of the reign of George II., though distinguished by the per- 
formances of Lely, Riley, and Kneller, seemed to be an- 
nihilated ; and the only question was whether the new 

5/V W. Hamilton. 


painter or Van Dyck were the more excellent." Reynolds 
speedily became the vogue, and his studio was thronged, 
says Northcote, " with women who wished to be transmitted 
as angels, and men who wished to appear as heroes and 

From this time fonvard Reynolds's life, during a brilliant 
period of upwards of thirty years, was one of unbroken suc- 
cess. Other painters rose from time to time to share his 
popularity, — Gainsborough, Romney, Opie, Hoppner, — but 
not to contest his supremacy. Not to be painted by Rey- 
nolds was, for a person of note, almost a breach of duty ; 
and in his canvases we see mirrored the men and women 
who contributed, in whatever department, to the eminence 
of the period. Garrick, Siddons, Burke, Johnson, Gold- 
smith, Sterne, Fox, Boswell, Erskine, Gibbon, — philosophers, 
statesmen, actors, soldiers, — all are there, not stiffly or affect- 
edly posturing, but snatched, as it were, from the midst of 
life, the expression and action of the moment caught and 
held in suspension by the genius of the painter. We read 
in the German fairy-tale that, when the princess pricked her 
finger with the spindle, all life and motion in the castle was 
in an instant checked. Bound by the spell of the bad fairy, 
the queen sat, stilled for a hundred years, with uplifted fin- 
ger and parted lips, upon which a syllable still trembled ; 
the maid at her needle remained with bent head, and thread 
half-drawn ; the servant stood with bowl outstretched and 
foot advanced in the midst of the hall ; and the angry cook 
in the kitchen paused with spit in air and malediction half- 
uttered, while his victim's fleeting look and attitude of terror 
were frozen into perpetuity. So with Reynolds's figures ; 
the painter seems to have stolen upon his model unawares, 
and to have held in check, as if by magic, the passing act 
and look until he could fix it forever upon his canvas. For- 
ever? No. The saddest defect in his portraits is their 
evanescence. As with the auroral canvases of Turner, their 



pristine splendor is passing into tradition. Italian paintings 
done three, or four, or five centuries ago are in many cases 
as bright and firm, almost, as when they left the easel ; while 
Reynolds's, after less than a century, are already fading into 
dimness. " Reynolds filled the halls of Fngland," says 
Ruskin, " with the ghosts of her noble squires and dames." 
" But alas ! " adds a commentator, " they are now, too many 
of them, the ghosts of ghosts." •* 

Sir Joshua's " flying colors," so exquisite when newly laid, 
were pardy due, no doubt, to his lack of thorough element- 
ary training, and in part to a fondness for dabbling in ex- 
perimental mixtures,^ — a damnosa haereditas, perhaps, of his 
early studies in pharmacy. A firm believer in the " Vene- 
tian secret," he spent a great portion of his life in explor- 
ing arcana the key to which might endow his canvases with 
the richness of Titian and the flowery hues of Veronese ; and 
to such a length did he carry experiment that he utterly de- 
stroyed several fine paintings of the Venetian school to trace 
the process of laying on, and to analyze the chemical mix- 
ture of the tints. "There is not a man on earth," he used 
to say, " who has the least notion of coloring ; we all of us 
have it equally to seek for and find out, as at present it is 
totally lost to the art." That Reynolds did not realize that 
permanence, was the one quality lacking in his work to place 
him beside the world's greatest colorists is one of the most 
deplorable f'xcts in the history of English painting. 

^ When a collection of them was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gal- 
lery, in 1SS4, "it was seen," said Ruskin, "broadly speaking, that 
neither the painter knew how to paint, the patron to preserve, nor the 
cleaner to restore " (Art 0/ England.) It is well to qualify this char- 
acteristic statement by (|uoting Sir George Beaumont's conclusion 
when some one complained that Sir Joshua "made his pictures die 
before the man " " Never mind," said Sir George, " a faded portrait 
by Reynolds is better than a fresh one by any one else " 

■^ " The wonder is," said Haydon, alluding to this practice, " that 
the pictures did not crack beneath the brush." 


Sir Joshua's career was, as has been stated, one of un- 
broken success, and it is in the ascending scale of his prices 
that his rising reputation is most readily traced. His origi- 
nal price for a head was five guineas ; in 1755 he raised it 
to twelve ; five years later it was twenty- five, ten years later 
thirty-five, while in his later years it was fifty. His industry 
may be judged from the fact that at the time when his price 
was twenty-five guineas, he told Ur. Johnson that he was 
making ;^6,ooo a year. He received six sitters a day, and 
calculated ui)on finishing a portrait in four hours. Yet his 
diligence was not the rapacious haste of Kneller. He said 
to Northcote that whenever a new sitter came for a portrait 
he began it with a full determination to make it the best of 
his works, even if the subject were unfavorable ; for there 
was always nature, and this was enough. One of the speedi- 
est of painters, Sir Joshua boasted that he had covered more 
canvas than any preceding artist in the three generations 
which he portrayed ; and within two years after his death 
Richardson published a list of seven hundred prints from 
his works. Taylor thinks that his authenticated pictures 
numbered about 3,000 ; and Hamilton's Catalogue states 
that there are 2,000 that can be placed. 

Sir Joshua's life was not without external honors. In 
1768, when the Royal Academy was founded, he was 
elected president by acclamation, and was knighted by the 
king, — an honor that has ever since been bestowed upon 
the holder of the office. In 1773 he was chosen mavor of 
his native town, Plympton, — a distinction, he told the king, 
which gave him more pleasure than any he had ever 
received, except, he politely added, " that which your 
Majesty so graciously conferred upon me." The academy 
dinners were started by him, and his discourses were 
delivered before the students at the annual prize-giving. 
In order that means might not be lacking to follow his 
constantly reiterated advice, " study the old masters," he 


offered the academy his own collection of pictures at a very 
low price, but the proposal was unwisely declined. A 
quarrel with the directors, the one embitterment of his life, 
was perhaps the outcome of this refusal. The ostensible 
ground of dispute was the election of the eccentric Anglo- 
Swiss Fuseli to the professorship of perspective over Rey- 
nolds's candidate, Bonomi. During the contest Gibbon 
wrote him from Lausanne : " I hear you have had a quarrel 
with your academicians. Fools as they are ! for such is 
the tyranny of character that no one will believe your 
enemies can be in the right." 

In 1789, when he was in his sixty-sixth year, his left eye 
became suddenly darkened while he was painting a por- 
trait. Within ten weeks its sight was totally gone, and he 
was thenceforth compelled to practically relinquish his 
profession, taking up the pencil only occasionally to re- 
touch the many portraits which had been left on his hands. 
" There is now an end of the pursuit," said he to Sheri- 
dan ; " the race is over, whether it is won or lost." 

His final discourse was delivered December 10, 1790; he 
was afterwards seized with a liver complaint, and after a 
long illness, " borne with a mild and cheerful fortitude," he 
died on February 23, 1792. A magnificent funeral was 
accorded the dead painter. The pall-bearers were the 
Dukes of Dorset, Leeds, and Portland ; the Marquises of 
Abercorn and Townshend ; the Earls of Carlisle, Inchiquin, 
and Upper Ossory; and Lords Palmerston and Eliot. 
Ninety-one carriages followed the hearse, bearing a noble 
company of peers and knights, scholars and prelates, and 
the entire body of the Royal Academicians. Burke wrote 
that " everything turned out fortunately for poor Sir Joshua, 
from the moment of his birth to the hour I saw him laid in 
the grave. Never was a funeral of ceremony attended with 
so much sincere concern by all sorts of people." He was 
buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, the resting-place of Sir 


Christopher Wren and the great Van Dyck, and his eulogy 
was written by Burke, who characterized him as " one of 
the most memorable men of his time, and the first English- 
man who added the praise of the elegant arts to the other 
glories of his country." 

On Sir Joshua's deficiencies as a painter we need not 
dwell. For the most of us there is Uttle to be gained and 
much to be lost in prying into and analyzing things pri- 
marily meant for our enjoyment. Beauty analyzed is beauty 
slain ; and it is, after all, wiser to rest satisfied with inhal- 
ing the fragrance of the flower of art and enjoying its per- 
fections, than to pull it to pieces, count the petals and 
stamens, and resolve the perfume into an essence scientifi- 
cally procurable from wayside weeds. ^ 

Reynolds's defects are, for the most part, imi)lied in his 
perfections. He was too wise to put in practice what at 
times he impliedly preached, — the attempt at blending 
"contrary excellences;" and one may as well regret that 
the crimson of the rose is not added to the whiteness of the 
lily as to impute to his works a lack of qualities negative to 
those to which they owe their peculiar charm. The dash 
and freedom, the light touch and ready artifice, the prefer- 
ence of the momentary grace and prettiness, the transient 
look and act, give to his portraits a sketchiness or littleness 
of effect when we compare them with the best of the old 
masters ; yet the defect is the concomitant of the charm ; 
anil the world is certainly the richer in that to the finish 
and consummate workmanship of a Holbein is added the 
"magnificent sketching" of a Reynolds. 

1 There is a fine moral to be drawn from Heine's summary of a too 
dialectical man : — 

" In seinem Streben nach dem Positivum liatte der arme Mann 
sich alles ITerrliche aus dem Leben herausiihilosojihiert, alle St)n- 
nenstralilen, alien Glaubcn und alle Blumen, und es blieb ihm nichts 
iibrig als das kalte, positive Grab." 


He is the painter of English gentlemen, and English 
ladies, and English children, painting these to perfection 
and painting little else — save charming bits of English 
landscape to set them in. This is his range ; but within 
that range, how various he is ! He is the courtliest, the 
most graceful of his crafl. His portraits stir no profound 
thoughts, challenge no inquiry. He rarely meddles with 
the deeper moods and passions, and in his world one finds 
none of those sombre, solemn-thoughted people of Italian 
portraiture, faces with an under-glovv of smouldering passion 
or hidden import, like that of Leonardo's " Mona Lisa," — 
a Sphinx-face with its veiled eyes and enigmatic smile. 
"The style is the man." From the profusion of nature the 
painter selects the facts most congenial to his temperament, 
sequesters them, and fixes them upon the canvas. Sir 
Joshua was all gentleness and afifability, one of the most gra- 
cious of recorded characters, in the best sense a courtier ; 
his lines had fallen in pleasant places, and he reflected the 
world as he saw it, — a trim, well-kept English world of park 
and woodland and cheerful vista, of smooth-rolling green- 
sward chequered with flickering lights and shadows, peopled 
with the stateliest of gentlemen, the loveliest of ladies, the 
most artless of children. The grace of Reynolds has passed 
into a proverb ; and in this quality, within certain limits, 
he is equal to any of the Italians. As a painter of children 
he stands pre-eminent, — thanks, perhaps, in part to his 
models, for no children are so charming as English chil- 
dren, with their unspoiled naturalness and dainty freshness 
and purity of color. There was something in the kindly 
nature of the painter keenly responsive to the humors of 
the little ones, to whom he never failed to endear himself; 
and, oddly enough, no one has rendered so lovingly and ac- 
curately, and in such manifold phases, the special charm 
of childhood as the childless Reynolds. 

His greatness stopped with portraiture. Admirable and 

Ladv Chillies Spencer. 


various as he was within his scope, his scope itself was 
strangely limited, petty, even, when one recalls the mag- 
nificent universality of a Raphael, whose genius swept the 
field of pictorial achievement, taking all art for its province, 
equally at home amid the flowering arabesques of the 
Loggie, and the sublime conceptions of the Camera della 
Segnatura. Reynolds's attempts at ideal and historical com- 
positions are failures, — at the best, pale reflections, some- 
times, it must be confessed, mere caricatures. When he 
touches the tragical and supernatural he is at his worst ; 
as bad, almost, as Fuseli, Barry, West, Haydon, and the 
rest of the Italianized group, — " moths who burnt thei: 
poor wings in the flame of Latin art." Let the reader 
mentally compare the grotesque goblins, the paltry panto- 
mine terrors of his " Macbeth and the Witches," or the 
vapid symbolical figures that debase his superb portrait of 
Mrs. Siddons, with the terrific forms, 

" The airy shapes, and beckoning shadows dire," 

that rose at the beck of Michael Angelo, and his feebleness 
becomes apparent. 

To this slight sketch of Reynolds the painter, it remains 
to add a few words of Reynolds the man. Northcote, his 
pupil and biographer, has thus described him : — 

" In his stature Sir Joshua Reynolds was rather under the 
middle size, of a florid complexion, roundish blunt features, and 
a lively aspect, — extremely active, with manners uncommonly 
polished and agreeable. In conversation his manner was per- 
fectly natural, simple, and unassuming. He most heartily 
enjoyed his profession, in which he was both famous and illus- 
trious ; and I agree with Mr. Malone, who says he appeared to 
him to be the happiest man he had ever known." 

Eminent as he was in his profession, Reynolds is perhaps 
even better known as a member of the Boswellian coterie, — 
as a sharer, with Johnson, Goldsmith, Burke, Gibbon, Gar- 


rick, and the other Olympians, in the famous symposia at 
the " Turk's Head." No name appears more frequently 
in the memoirs of the time, and none is more tenderly 
treated. He was the founder, with Johnson, of the Literary 
Club, — the original purpose of which seems to have been 
to afford the " Great Cham " a fair field and plenty of 
heads for the exercise of his controversial cudgel. Gold- 
smith's crown was cracked the most frequently, — except, of 
course, Boswell's, — and Sir Joshua's the least. " Sir Joshua 
Reynolds, sir," Johnson once said to Boswell, " is the most 
invulnerable man I know ; the man with whom if you 
should quarrel, you would find the most difficulty how to 
abuse." With the disputatious scholars of the day conver- 
sation meant a duel a outrance. The monologue epoch, 
the epoch of Coleridge, Macaulay, Carlyle, had not yet 
dawned, and the giants of talk loved an antagonist who, 
like Burke, "calls forth all your powers," and "puts his 
mind fairly to yours." It was pre-eminently the age of 
dispute , and Lord Ashburton — himself no mean comba- 
tant — once said to Reynolds, after a specially stormy sitting, 
"The last time I dined in your house the company was of 

such a sort that, by ! I believe all the rest of the world 

enjoyed peace for that afternoon." Like the beasts in a 
menagerie, the quarrelsome literati seem to have been most 
unruly at feeding-time. At the "Turk's Head," where the 
Genius of Discord was often active. Sir Joshua's function 
seems to have been that of moderator or peacemaker in 
general. No voice was so potent as his to still the angry 
growls of the dread lexicographer, who even admitted that 
" when Sir Joshua Reynolds, sir, tells me something, I con- 
sider myself as possessing an idea the more." Not that 
Reynolds did not come in for an occasional tap from the 
lion's paw. Upon one occasion, when the argument turned 
upon the use of wine, Johnson, who was rather worsted in 
the dispute, impatiently exclaimed, " I won't argue any 


more with you, sir ; you are too far gone ! " "I should 
have thought so indeed, sir," mildly replied the painter, 
"had 1 made such a speech as you have now," — which 
was perhaps the most effective rebuke ever received by the 
bullying Doctor. Such scenes, however, were rare between 
these illustrious friends, each of whom, in his way, admired 
and reverenced the other. " Reynolds," says Northcote, 
" was truly the duke decus, and with whom he maintained 
an uninterrupted intimacy to the last of his life." Johnson, 
though no judge of art, respected his friend's genius, sitting 
to him several times,^ and denouncing reluctance to sit for 
one's portrait as " an anfractuosity of the human mind." 
He even took up the cudgels for Sir Joshua's branch of art 
as contradistinguished from ideal and historical painting. 
" Genius," he said, " is chiefly exerted in historical pict- 
ures, and the art of the painter of portraits is often lost in 
the obscurity of his subject. But it is in painting as it is in 
life ; what is greatest is not always best. I should grieve 
to see Reynolds transfer to heroes and to goddesses, to 
empty splendor and to airy fiction, that art which is now 
employed in diffusing friendship, in renewing tenderness, 
in quickening the affections of the absent, and continuing 
the presence of the dead." It was at Reynolds's house 
that the Doctor had his fiimous bout with the Dean of 
Derry, whom he grossly insulted. Naturally, the Dean 
lost his temper, which, as became his cloth, he afterwards 
regretted. He signified his admiration of the placid de- 

1 In the famous portrait in the National Gallery he is shown read- 
ing, with the book held close to the eyes after the manner of near- 
sighted people, — a mode of representation strenuously objected to by 
the ]5hilosopher. "It is not friendly," he said, "to hand down to 
posterity the imperfections of any man. . . . Let Sir Joshua do his 
worst, ... he may paint himself as deaf as he chooses ; but I will not 
be Blinkivi^ Sam." Upon some one else, however, remarking that 
the portrait lacked dignitv, he growled out, " No, sir ! the pencil of 
Reynolds never wanted dignity or the graces." 


meanor of the painter under like trials in the following 

verses : — 

" Dear Knight of Plympton, teach me how 
To suffer with unclouded brow 

And smile serene as thine, 
The jest uncouth, and truth severe ; 
Like thee to turn my deafest ear, 
And cahnly drink my wine. 

" Thou say'st not only skill is gained 
But genius too may be attained 

By studious invitation ; 
Thy temper mild, thy genius fine, 
I '11 study till I make them mine 

By constant meditation." 

With Goldsmith, Sir Joshua's relations were no less 
friendly. When the Royal Academy was founded the poet 
was, at his instance, appointed Professor of Ancient His- 
tory, an honor which he thus amusingly mentioned in a 
letter to his brother : — 

"The King has lately been pleased to make me Professor of 
Ancient History in a Royal Academy of Painting which he has 
just established ; but there is no salary annexed, and I took it 
rather as a compliment to the Institution than any benefit to 
myself. Honors to one in my situation are something like 
ruffles to a man that wants a shirt." 

Reynolds's portrait of the poet is an excellent example 
of his faculty of elevating his works by showing the sitters 
in their finer moods, — for there are moments when the 
plainest faces light into a sort of beauty, — preserving at the 
same time strict accuracy of likeness. Leslie called this 
portrait the most pathetic picture Reynolds ever painted, 
and he was right. It is not the childish " Goldy " of Bos- 
well, the vagrant flute-player, the whimsical lodger who 
used to put the candle out by throwing his slipper at it, 
that the painter shows us; the cap and bells (so often 
associated with the profoundest pathos) are laid aside ; 


the cloud of folly, absurdity, caprice, seems to have fallen 
from him like a mantle ; it is the patient, kindly scholar, 
the genius who left the nations in his debt, that looks out 
from the canvas. 

Goldsmith inscribed " The Deserted Village " to Rey- 
nolds in the following touching words : " The only dedica- 
tion I ever made was to my brother, because I loved him 
better than most other men. He is since dead. Permit 
me to inscribe this poem to you." Had Reynolds never 
limned a canvas these words should have kept his memory 
green. Goldsmith's last work — left unfinished — was the 
sportive epitaph which, Taylor thinks, will ever remain the 
best epitome of Sir Joshua's character. It reads as follows : 

" Here Reynolds is laid ; and, to tell you my mind, 
He has not left a wiser or better behind. 
His pencil was striking, resistless, and grand; 
His manners were gentle, complying, and bland ; 
Still born to improve us in every part, — 
His pencil our faces, his manners our heart. 
To coxcombs averse, yet most civilly steering, 
When they judged without skill he was still hard of hearing; 
When they talked of their Raphaels, Correggios, and stuff, 
He shifted his trumpet, and only took snuff." 

Northcote says that on the day of (joldsmith's death Sir 
Joshua did not touch the pencil, — "a circumstance the 
most extraordinary for him, who passed no day without a 

Reynolds's character may be fitly summed up in the words 
of Edmund Burke, who said, " I do not know a fault or a 
weakness of his that he did not convert into something 
that bordered on a virtue, instead of pushmg it to the con- 
fines of a vice." 

1 Some of Reynolds's friends used to remonstrate with him on his 
liabit of working at his art on Sundays. Johnson's death-bed request 
to him was, never to paint on Sunday, to read his Bible often, and 
to forgive him a debt of ^^30 


Like all original thinkers, Sir Joshua Reynolds has been, 
to adapt the words of Falstaff, not only wise in himself, but 
the cause that wisdom is in other men, his discourses hav- 
ing long served as a quarry for subsequent builders, as well 
as a pretext for laborious comment and confutation. Their 
composer was too shining a mark to escape detraction ; and 
the genial painter has even been made the victim of a phase 
of criticism that displays its acumen in beclouding the titles 
of authors to their own works, — a curious, and not very 
amiable " anfractuosity of the human mind," as Dr. John- 
son might have said, which bred the suspicion that Sir 
Joshua Reynolds's discourses were the work of Burke, of 
Johnson, of any one, in fact, rather than of the man who 
claimed them, and to whom they were credited by the com- 
mon sense of mankind. Death is thus armed with a new 
terror for authors ; but, happily, in Sir Joshua's case the 
charge of imposture has been fully disproved. 

In addition to their character as a collection of precepts 
and observations drawn from the experience of a great 
painter, the discourses embody a definite attempt at a 
pliilosophy of art, the first serious essay in the English lan- 
guage in the direction of aesthetic science ; and it is, nat- 
urally, on their speculative side that they have provoked 
attack. Sir Joshua has been accused, not entirely without 
reason, of belittling personal greatness, of denying the ex- 
istence of genius, or, what amounts to the same thing, of 
asserting that it may be acquired. The visionary Blake, to 
whom Reynolds's substitution of reason for rhapsody in 
aesthetic discussion was both distasteful and unintelligible, 
was specially bitter on this point. " Reynolds's opinion," he 
said, " was that genius may be taught, and all pretence to 
inspiration is a lie or a deceit, to say the least of it. If it 
is deceit, the whole Bible is madness." The famous Third 
Discourse Blake vehemently denounced as " particularly in- 
teresting to blockheads, as it endeavors to prove that there 


is no such thing as inspiration, and that any man of plain 
understanding may, by thieving from others, become a 
Michael Angelo." Again : " It is evident that Reynolds 
wished none but fools to be in the arts, and in order to 
compass this, he calls all others rogues, enthusiasts, or mad- 
men. What has reasoning to do with the art of painting? " 
Reasoning had certainly very little to do with his own dis- 
tempered productions, and the cairn, philosophical Rey- 
nolds had certainly very little sympathy with mystics who 
ascribe to their own incoherent whimsies a divine origin ; 
but that the strictures quoted are absurdly overstrained, 
those who read the discourses throughout, and fairly con- 
sider them as a whole, need not be told. 

Still, there is color of truth in Blake's censures, and the 
casual reader is not unlikely to fall into his error as to Rey- 
nolds's idea of genius, — which, as interpreted by Blake, is 
certainly a comfortable one for the rank and file of man- 
kind. The meaning of an author may be easily distorted 
by citing, or mistaken by reading, him in detached passages ; 
and this is especially true of Reynolds, whose discourses 
were deliv'ered at long interv^als, and who, in those portions 
in which he assumes the dual role of speculative thinker and 
practical teacher, is occasionally led into inconsistencies. 
Reynolds the painter not infrequently qualifies the dicta of 
Reynolds the theorist ; and it is only by reading him as a 
a whole that his real sense is to be got. At times, in his 
anxiety for the logical compactness of his scheme, he seems 
to justify the censures of Blake ; while in the next sentence, 
perhaps, loosed from the meshes of his metaphysical web, 
he bows to the truth that every truly great art-product is 
the unique fruit of personal qualities which, it is infinity to 
one, will never be exactly repeated in an individual. That 
so sensible a man as Sir Joshua Reynolds really believed in 
the efiicacy of his own system, or of any system wr.atsoever, 
to produce artistic figs from intellectual thistles, to trans- 


form the incipient daubers to whom he was trying to con- 
vey a proper conception of their art into Raphaels or 
Michael Angelos, is too absurd to be supposed for a mo- 
ment. Indeed, he cautiously prefaces his famous definition 
of great art, to be quoted presently, by saying, " It is not 
easy to define in what this great style consists ; nor to de- 
scribe by words the proper means of acquiring it, if the ?nind 
pf the student should be at all capable of such an acquisition,''' 
— a courteous but sufficiently forcible way of stating that in 
no event is one to expect the blast of a trumpet from a 
penny whistle. Touching this point, too, it is to be remem- 
bered that the lectures were primarily addressed to students, 
and it was a part of the speaker's duty to lay stress upon 
the potency of well-directed industry ; and I may add that 
its noble results in his own case may stand as his best 

Reynolds's system is the reflection of his own career and 
character. He was an intellectual rather than an imagina- 
tive man, — a man accustomed to observe closely,^ and to 
systematize his observations ; his own art was largely the 
result of careful study and selection, a splendid victory of 
the will ; and his mental complexion led him to believe — 
or, at least, when the brush was out of his hand, to believe 
that he believed — that " the whole beauty and grandeur 
of the art " could be reduced to a few set principles, and 
packed away snugly in a definition. Great art he held to 
be largely a matter of method and procedure ; those who 
had attained it had obeyed certain rules and carried out 
certain principles ; and to ascertain those rules and princi- 
ples was the task he proposed to himself, — not that he 
hoped to formulate a recipe by which average men could 
produce the effects of genius, as Blake hints. Setting the 
wayfarer upon the high road is one thing ; guaranteeing 

- " I know no man who has passed through life with more observa- 
tion than Sir Joshua Reynolds," said Johnson. 


his arrival at his destination is quite another. " It needs a 
divine man to exhibit anything divine." 

That Reynolds was far from underrating what was unique 
and unteachable in the genius of the great masters whose 
names were so often upon his lips, his writings testify. His 
profound veneration of Michael Angelo, for example, as 
expressed at the close of the last discourse, could scarcely 
have b^en due to a conception of Michael Angelo as 
a phenomenally industrious and methodical man. " Yet 
however unequal," he says, " I feel myself to that attempt, 
were I to begin the world again, I would tread in the steps 
of that great master ; to kiss the hem of his garment, to 
catch the slightest of his perfections, would be glory and 
distinction enough for an ambitious man. I feel a self- 
congratulation in knowing myself capable of such sensations 
as he intended to excite.-^ I reflect, not without vanity, 
that these discourses bear testimony to my admiration of 
that truly divine man ; and I should desire that the last 
words which I should pronounce in this Academy and 
from this place might be the name of Michael Angela'' 
These are not words of detraction. 

Reynolds's theory as to the nature of great art was largely 
the fruit of his Italian studies, and may be described as the 
dawning consciousness in English art-criticism that there is 
an excellence in painting distinct from that belonging to 
manual skill ; and that the tooth-drawings, fisticuffs, and 
boorish merrymakings of a Brouwer or a Teniers, exquisitely 
painted and, in their degree, desirable though they may be, 
do not fulfil the highest office of art. Greatness of style 
consisted essentially, he held, in a preference of the gen- 
eral to the particular ; of the typical to the individual ; in 

1 In his Roman notes Sir Joshua naively speaks of passing an 
entire clay in the Sistine Chapel, " walking up and clown it with great 
self-importance," glorying in the fact that he was able to comprehend 
the works of Michael Angelo. 


the suppression of all incident and detail in favor of general 
harmony. Perfect beauty exists in the individual only in 
so far as the individual conforms to the type. As he ex- 
pressed it, greatness of style lies " in being able to get 
above all singular forms, local customs, particularities, and 
details of every kind; " and the first study of the painter 
who aims at excellence should be the " long, laborious com- 
parison " which, by "observing what any set of objects of 
the same kind have in common, has acquired the power of 
discerning what each wants in particular." The painter so 
equipped is "enabled to distinguish the accidental deficien- 
cies, excrescences, and deformities of things from their gen- 
eral figures," and thus " makes out an abstract idea of their 
forms more perfect than any original." 

To Reynolds, as we have seen, great art was but the 
lengthened shadow of the Italian masters ; in their works 
alone were the elements of grandeur to be sought, and his 
definition of greatness of style is essentially a statement of 
the tendency of Latin, as distinguished from Saxon art, — 
its disposition to generalize, to soar into the abstract, to get 
above, or, at least, to get away from, the plain facts of 
actual life. One can fancy Reynolds, broadly speaking, to 
have reasoned the matter out in this way : Italian art is the 
only great art ; Italian art generalizes ; therefore, great art 
generalizes. From the art of a race and an epoch he ex- 
tracted the spirit, and pronounced it the criterion. of excel- 
lence for all races and all time. That there could be 
another phase of greatness, another field in which another 
type of genius could expatiate, does not seem to have oc- 
curred to him, — nor the folly of attempting to ingraft upon 
his countrymen ideals and aspirations as foreign to their 
dispositions as are the olive and the vine to their soil. 

We need not enter here upon the old discussion of the 
relative merits of the two styles, the Latin and the Saxon, 
— one of those time- honored, futile questions in which, as 


Sancho Panza sagely observed, " there is a great deal that 
may be said on both sides," and in respect of which no 
human being was ever yet brought by force of logic to 
change his opinion. This much is certain, the world's 
greatness is not of one race or period, nor is true greatness 
even a reflected light ; " whatever is to be truly great and 
truly affecting must have on it the strong stamp of the 
native land." 

To accept Reynolds's standard literally would be to ex- 
clude from the pale of great art a multitude of works — his 
own certainly included — justly reckoned among the glories 
of painting, and to confine the term to a grand but narrow 
class best exemplified by the works of Michael Angelo and a 
few incomparable fragments of Greek sculpture. His 
definition is insufficient rather than wholly false, for it 
touches a vital characteristic of a great class, and dimly 
foreshadows the truth as to detail in art, — that high art 
" gets above," not the details themselves, but the paltry 
use of them, the treating them as an end rather than a 
means ; for genius is as " the wind w-hich bloweth where 
it listeth," making free use of even " all singular forms, 
local customs, particularities, and details of every kind," 
whenever they may be made to serve its purposes. 

It may, perhaps, be argued in support of Reynolds's 
views that the greatest examples of great art have been 
wrought out upon principles identical with or analogous to 
those he advances. That there may be, when the hand of 
the workman is fitted to the task, an added grandeur due 
to the departure from the individual and the approach to 
the type, one cannot but feel when comparing certain 
masterpieces that conform to his rule with kindred repre- 
sentations that do not. Compare, for example, the Venus 
de Milo, that highly artificial synthesis in marble of womanly 
perfections, with the coquettishly beautiful Queen of the 
Tribuna, the Venus tie Medicis. There can be no doubt 


in which of these two cases the sculptor has held to the 
rule that "' nature herself is not to be too closely imitated." 
In the former work one sees, not portraiture, but the 
result of a deliberate selective process, the material em- 
bodiment of an ideal ; it is not the wanton Aphrodite 
whom Vulcan snared in his net amid the laughter of high 
Olympus, but a goddess divinely unconscious of the pas- 
sions over which she presides, — the ideal of Lucretius, 
" the desired of men and gods, the universal mother, who 
beneath the circling stars gives increase to the ship- bearing 
sea, gives increase to the earth the mother of harvests, and 
favors the conception of every living creature, and their 
birth into the light of day." The Medicean Venus is 
simply the model transferred to marble, a beautiful woman 
— her individuality emphasized by the immodestly modest 
attitude and modishly dressed hair — posing as Aphrodite ; 
some forgotten Phryne, perhaps, who still 

" loves in stone, and fills 
The air around with beauty." 

The spirit that informs Sir Joshua Reynolds's discourses 
is a noble one. Aim at the highest, — " hitch your wagon 
to a star," — is the burden of his counsel. He has left an 
eloquent and convincing plea for mind in the arts ; for the 
strangely controverted truth that the painter's work — 
leaving for the moment executive merit out of the count — 
rises in quality with the degree of taste, culture, intellectual 
power it exhibits. Given two men of like manual dexterity, 
it is the one whose mind is enriched with the fruits of a 
liberal culture that will climb the higher. To insist upon 
intellectual quality as the final test ; to adopt the rule that 
" the art is greatest which includes the greatest ideas," ^ is 
not to detract from technical skill, but to presuppose it. 
In art or in literature the expression of great ideas implies 

1 Ruskin. 


grandeur of diction, and a consummate power over mate- 
rials or words, without which the genius of a Raphael or a 
Francia, a IMilton or a Byron would be inarticulate and 

On the other hand, a high degree of technical merit may 
exist in a work which a man like Reynolds would not hesi- 
tate to pronounce despicable, and hopelessly outside the pale 
of the fine arts. To cite a very moderate example : " A few 
years ago," says Professor Middleton, "a gold medal was 
won at the Paris saloii by a naturalist picture, a master- 
piece of technical skill. It represented Job as an emaciated 
old man covered with ulcers, carefully studied in Paris 
hospitals for skin diseases." As a piece of technique this 
normal fruit of a deplorable canon of artistic criticism may 
have been as perfect as the "Transfiguration;" we may 
admit that it was so, and yet blush to institute, even for the 
sake of illustration, the comparison between them. 

Sir Joshua Reynolds set his standards high, — much too 
high for average human achievement ; and, in his exaltation 
of the Grand Style he would seem to have forgotten that 
the snow-clad peaks, the glacier regions of solitary grandeur 
to which he pointed the gaze and ambition of the student, 
tower remotely above the real interests and affections of 
men ; that the teeming valleys below the regions of eternal 
snow are infinitely richer in the elements of human sym- 
pathy and enjoyment. 

Sublime as he was, and, in his province and degree, in- 
comparably great, there are few of us, I think, who do not 
turn with heart- felt if shame- faced pleasure from the chill- 
ing intellectual sublimity of a Michael Angelo to the 
gentler graces, the sweet humanity, and familiar charm of a 
Gainsborough, a Steen, a Wilkie, a Reynolds. 

E. G. J. 

July 16, 1 89 1. 

Mrs. Siddons as the Traffic Muse. 



Delivered at the Opening of the Royal Academy^ 
January 2, 1769. 


An academy in which the polite arts may be 
regularly cultivated is at last opened among us by 
royal munificence. This must appear an event in 
the highest degree interesting, not only to the artist, 
but to the whole nation. 

It is, indeed, difficult to give any other reason why 
an empire like that of Britain should so long have 
wanted an ornament so suitable to its greatness, than 
that slow progression of things which naturally makes 
elegance and refinement the last effect of opulence 
and power. 

An institution like this has often been recom- 
mended upon considerations merely mercantile ; but 
an academy founded upon such principles can never 


effect even its own narrow purposes. If it has an 
origin no higher, no taste can ever be formed in 
manufactures ; but if the higher arts of design flour- 
ish, these inferior ends will be answered of course. 

We are happy in having a prince who has conceived 
the design of such an institution according to its true 
dignity, and who promotes the arts as the head of a 
great, a learned, a polite, and a commercial nation; 
and I can now congratulate you, gentlemen, on the 
accomplishment of your long and ardent wishes. 

The numberless and ineffectual consultations which 
I have had with many in this assembly to form plans 
and concert schemes for an academy afford a suffi- 
cient proof of the impossibility of succeeding but by 
the influence of Majesty. But there have, perhaps, 
been times when even the influence of Majesty would 
have been ineffectual ; and it is pleasing to reflect 
that we are thus embodied when every circumstance 
seems to concur from which honor and prosperity 
can probably arise. 

There are at this time a greater number of excel- 
lent artists than were ever known before at one 
period in this nation ; there is a general desire among 
our nobility to be distinguished as lovers and judges 
of the arts ; there is a greater superfluity of wealth 
among the people to reward the professors; and, 
above all, we are patronized by a monarch who, 
knowing the value of science and of elegance, thinks 
every art worthy of his notice that tends to soften 
and humanize the mind. 

After so much has been done by His Majesty it 
will be wholly our fault if our progress is not in some 


degree correspondent to the wisdom and generosity 
of the institution. Let us show our gratitude in our 
diligence, that, though our merit may not answer his 
expectations, yet, at least, our industry may deserve 
his protection. 

But whatever may be our proportion of success, of 
this wc may be sure, that the present institution will 
at least contribute to advance our knowledge of the 
arts, and bring us nearer to that ideal excellence 
which it is the lot of genius always to contemplate, 
and never to attain. 

The principal advantage of an academy is that, 
besides furnishing able men to direct the student, it 
will be a repository for the great examples of the 
art. These are the materials on which genius is to 
work, and without which the strongest intellect may 
be fruitlessly or deviously employed. By studying 
these authentic models that idea of excellence which 
is the result of the accumulated experience of past 
ages may be at once acquired ; and the tardy and 
obstructed progress of our predecessors may teach 
us a shorter and easier way. The student receives at 
one glance the principles which many artists have 
spent their whole lives in ascertaining; and, satisfied 
with their effect, is spared the painful investigation 
by which they came to be known and fixed. How 
many men of great natural abilities have been lost 
to this nation for want of these advantages! They 
never had an opportunity of seeing those masterly 
efforts of genius which at once kindle the whole soul 
and force it into sudden and irresistible approba- 


Raphael, it is true, had not the advantage of study- 
ing in an academy; but all Rome, and the works of 
Michael Angelo in particular, were to him an acad- 
emy. On the sight of the Capella Sistina, he imme- 
diately, from a dry, Gothic, and even insipid manner, 
which attends to the minute accidental discriminations 
of particular and individual objects, assumed that 
grand style of painting which improves partial repre- 
sentation by the general and invariable ideas of 

Every seminary of learning may be said to be 
surrounded with an atmosphere of floating knowl- 
edge, where every mind may imbibe somewhat con- 
genial to its own original conceptions. Knowledge 
thus obtained has always something more popular 
and useful than that which is forced upon the mind 
by private precepts or solitary meditation. Besides, 
it is generally found that a youth more easily receives 
instruction from the companions of his studies, whose 
minds are nearly on a level with his own, than from 
those who are much his superiors ; and it is from his 
equals only that he catches the fire of emulation. 

One advantage, I will venture to affirm, we shall 
have in our Academy which no other nation can 
boast; we shall have nothing to unlearn. To this 
praise the present race of artists have a just claim. 
As far as they have yet proceeded, they are right 
With us the exertions of genius will henceforward 
be directed to their proper objects. It will not be 
as it has been in other schools, where he that trav- 
elled fastest only wandered farthest from the right 


Impressed as I am, therefore, with such a favor- 
able opinion of my associates in this undertaking, it 
would ill become me to dictate to any of them. But 
as these institutions have so often failed in other 
nations, and as it is natural to think with regret how 
much might have been done, I must take leave to 
offer a few hints by which those errors may be recti- 
fied, and those defects supplied. These the profes- 
sors and visitors may reject or adopt as they shall 
think proper. 

I would chiefly recommend that an implicit obedi- 
ence to the Rules of Art, as established by the prac- 
tice of the great masters, should be exacted from 
the yoimg students, — that those models which have 
passed through the approbation of ages should 
be considered by them as perfect and infallible 
guides ; as subjects for their imitation, not their 

I am confident that this is the only efficacious 
method of making a progress in the arts ; and that 
he who sets out with doubting will find life finished 
before he becomes master of the rudiments. For it 
may be laid down as a maxim that he who begins by 
presuming on his own sense has ended his studies as 
soon as he has commenced them. Every oppor- 
tunity, therefore, should be taken to discountenance 
that false and vulgar opinion, that rules are the fetters 
of genius ; they are fetters only to men of no genius, 
— as that armor which upon the strong is an orna- 
ment and a defence, upon the weak and misshapen 
becomes a load, and cripples the body which it was 
made to protect. 


How much liberty may be taken to break through 
those rules, and, as the poet expresses it, 

" To snatch a grace beyond the reach of art," 

may be a subsequent consideration, when the pupils 
become masters themselves. It is then, when their ge- 
nius has received its utmost improvement, that rules 
may possibly be dispensed with. But let us not de- 
stroy the scaffold until we have raised the building. 

The directors ought more particularly to watch 
over the genius of those students who, being more 
advanced, are arrived at that critical period of study 
on the nice management of which their future turn of 
taste depends. At that age it is natural for them to 
be more captivated with what is brilliant than with 
what is solid, and to prefer splendid negligence to 
painful and humiliating exactness. 

A facility in composing, a lively, and what is called 
a masterly, handling of the chalk or pencil, are, it 
must be confessed, captivating qualities to young 
minds, and become, of course, the objects of their 
ambition. They endeavor to imitate these dazzling 
excellences which they will find no great labor in 
attaining. After much time spent in these frivolous 
pursuits, the difificulty will be to retreat; but it will 
be then too late ; and there is scarce an instance of 
return to scrupulous labor after the mind has been 
debauched and deceived by this fallacious mastery. 

By this useless industry they are excluded from all 
power of advancing in real excellence. While boys 
they are arrived at their utmost perfection ; they 
have taken the shadow for the substance, and make 


the mechanical fehcity the chief excellence of the 
art, which is only an ornament, and of the merit of 
which few but painters themselves arc judges. 

This seems to me to be one of the most dangerous 
sources of corruption ; and I speak of it from experi- 
ence, not as an error which may possibly happen, but 
which has actually infected all foreign academies. 
The directors were probably pleased with this pre- 
mature dexterity in their pupils, and praised their 
despatch at the expense of their correctness. 

But young men have not only this frivolous ambi- 
tion of being thought masters of execution inciting 
them on one hand, but also their natural sloth tempt- 
ing them on the other. They are terrified at the 
prospect before them of the toil required to attain 
exactness. The impetuosity of youth is disgusted at 
the slow approaches of a regular siege, and desires, 
from mere impatience of labor, to take the citadel by 
storm. They wish to find some shorter path to excel- 
lence, and hope to obtain the reward of eminence by 
other means than those w4iich the indispensable rules 
of art have prescribed. They must, therefore, be told 
again and again that labor is the only price of solid 
fame, and that whatever their force of genius may be, 
there is no easy method of becoming a good painter. 

When we read the lives of the most eminent 
painters every page informs us that no part of their 
time was spent in dissipation. Even an increase of 
fame served only to augment their industry. To be 
convinced with what persevering assiduity they pur- 
sued their studies, we need only reflect on their method 
of proceeding in their most celebrated works. When 


they conceived a subject, they first made a variety of 
sketches; then a finished drawing of the whole; after 
that a more correct drawing of every separate part, — 
heads, hands, feet, and pieces of drapery; they then 
painted the picture, and after all, retouched it from 
the life. The pictures thus wrought with such pains 
now appear like the effect of enchantment, and as if 
some mighty genius had struck them off at a blow. 

But, while diligence is thus recommended to the 
students, the visitors will take care that their diligence 
be effectual; that it be well directed, and employed 
on the proper object. A student is not always 
advancing because he is employed ; he must apply 
his strength to that part of the art where the real 
difficulties lie, — to that part which distinguishes it as 
a liberal art; and not by mistaken industry lose his 
time in that which is merely ornamental. The stu- 
dents, instead of vying with each other which shall 
have the readiest hand, should be taught to contend 
who shall have the purest and most correct outline ; 
instead of striving which shall produce the brightest 
tint, or, curiously trifling, shall give the gloss of stuffs 
so as to appear real, let their ambition be directed to 
contend which shall dispose his drapery in the most 
graceful folds, which shall give the most grace and 
dignity to the human figure. 

I must beg leave to submit one thing more to the 
consideration of the visitors, which appears to me a 
matter of very great consequence, and the omission 
of which I think a principal defect in the method of 
education pursued in all the academies I have ever 
visited. The error I mean is that the students never 
draw exactly from the living models which they have 


before them. It is not, indeed, their intention, nor 
are they directed to do it. Their drawings resemble 
the model only in the attitude. They change the 
form according to their vague and uncertain ideas of 
beauty, and make a drawing rather of what they 
think the figure ought to be than of what it appears. 
I have thought this the obstacle that has stopped the 
progress of many young men of real genius ; and I 
very much doubt whether a habit of drawing cor- 
rectly what we see will not give a proportionable power 
of drawing correctly what we imagine. He who 
endeavors to copy nicely the figure before him not 
only acquires a habit of exactness and precision, but 
is continually advancing in his knowledge of the 
human figure ; and though he seems to superficial 
observers to make a slower progress, he will be found 
at last capable of adding (without running into 
capricious wildness) that grace and beauty which is 
necessary to be given to his more finished works, and 
which cannot be got by the moderns, as it was not 
acquired by the ancients, but by an attentive and 
well-compared study of the human form. 

What I think ought to enforce this method is that 
it has been the practice (as may be seen by their 
drawings) of the great masters in the art. I will 
mention a drawing of Raphael, " The Dispute of the 
Sacrament," the print of which, by Count Caylus, is 
in every hand. It appears that he made his sketch 
from one model ; and the habit he had of drawing 
exactly from the form before him appears by his 
making all the figures with the same cap, such as his 
model then happened to wear; so servile a copyist 
was this great man, even at a time when he was 


allowed to be at his highest pitch of excellence. I 
have seen also academy figures by Annibale Ca- 
racci, though he was often sufficiently licentious in 
his finished works, drawn with all the peculiarities of 
an individual model. 

This scrupulous exactness is so contrary to the 
practice of the academies that it is not without great 
deference that I beg leave to recommend it to the 
consideration of the visitors, and submit to them 
whether the neglect of this method is not one of the 
reasons why students so often disappoint expectation, 
and, being more than boys at sixteen, become less 
than men at thirty. 

In short, the method I recommend can only be 
detrimental where there are but few living forms to 
copy; for then students, by always drawing from 
one alone, will by habit be taught to overlook de- 
fects and mistake deformity for beauty. But of this 
there is no danger, since the council has determined 
to supply the academy with a variety of subjects ; 
and indeed those laws which they have drawn up, 
and which the secretary will presently read for your 
confirmation, have in some measure precluded me 
from saying more upon this occasion. Instead, there- 
fore, of off"ering my advice, permit me to indulge my 
wishes, and express my hope, that this institution 
may answer the expectation of its ROVAL Founder ; 
that the present age may vie in arts with that of Leo 
the Tenth; and that the dignity of the dying art (to 
make use of an expression of Pliny) may be revived 
under the Reign of George III. 

The, /foe of Jim or pure. 


Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Dis- 
tribution of the Prizes, December 1 1, 1769. 


I CONGRATULATE yoii on the honor which you have 
just received. I have the liighest opinion of your 
merits, and could wish to show my sense of them in 
something which possibly may be more useful to you 
than barren praise. I could wish to lead you into 
such a course of study as may render your future 
progress answerable to your past improvement, and 
while I applaud you for what has been done, remind 
you how much yet remains to attain perfection. 

I flatter myself that from the long experience I 
have had, and the unceasing assiduity with which I 
have pursued those studies in which, like you, I have 
been engaged, I shall be acquitted of vanity in offer- 
ing some hints to your consideration. They are, 
indeed, in a great degree, founded upon my own 
mistakes in the same pursuit. But the history of 
errors, properly managed, often shortens the road to 
truth. And although no method of study that I can 


offer will of itself conduct to excellence, yet it may- 
preserve industry from being misapplied. 

In speaking to you of the theory of the art, I shall 
only consider it as it has a relation to the method of 
your studies. 

Dividing the study of painting into three distinct 
periods, I shall address you as having passed through 
the first of them, which is confined to the rudiments ; 
including a facility of drawing any object that pre- 
sents itself, a tolerable readiness in the management 
of colors, and an acquaintance with the most simple 
and obvious rules of composition. 

This first degree of proficiency is, in painting, what 
grammar is in literature, a general preparation for 
whatever species of the art the student may after- 
wards choose for his more particular application. 
The power of drawing, modelling, and using colors 
is very properly called the language of the art, and in 
this language the honors you have just received prove 
you to have made no inconsiderable progress. 

When the artist is once enabled to express himself 
with some degree of correctness, he must then en- 
deavor to collect subjects for expression, — to amass 
a stock of ideas, to be combined and varied as occa- 
sion may require. He is now in the second period of 
study, in which his business is to learn all that has 
been known and done before his own time. Having 
hitherto received instructions from a particular mas- 
ter, he is now to consider the art itself as his master. 
He must extend his capacity to more sublime and 
general instructions. Those perfections which lie 
scattered amoncr various masters are now united in 


one general idea, which is henceforth to regulate his 
taste and enlarge his imagination. With a variety of 
models thus before him he will avoid that narrowness 
and poverty of conception which attends a bigoted 
admiration of a single master, and will cease to follow 
any favorite where he ceases to excel. This period 
is, however, still a time of subjection and discipline. 
Though the student will not resign himself blindly to 
any single authority when he may have the advan- 
tage of consulting many, he must still be afraid of 
trusting his own judgment and of deviating into any 
track where he cannot find the footsteps of some for- 
mer master. 

The third and last period emancipates the student 
from subjection to any authority but what he shall 
himself judge to be supported by reason. Confiding 
now in his own judgment, he will consider and sepa- 
rate those different principles to which different modes 
of beauty owe their original. In the former period 
he sought only to know and combine excellence, 
wherever it was to be found, into one idea of per- 
fection ; in this he learns, what requires the most at- 
tentive survey and the most subtle disquisition, to 
discriminate perfections that arc incompatible with 
each other. 

He is from this time to regard himself as holding 
the same rank with those masters whom he before 
obeyed as teachers, and as exercising a sort of 
sovereignty over those rules which have hitherto 
restrained him. Comparing now no longer the per- 
formances of art with each other, but examining the 
art itself by the standard of nature, he corrects what 
is erroneous, supplies what is scant}', and adds by his 



own observation what the industry of his predecessors 
may have yet left wanting to perfection. Having well 
established his judgment and stored his memory, he 
may now without fear try the power of his imagina- 
tion. The mind that has been thus disciplined may 
be indulged in the warmest enthusiasm, and venture 
to play on the borders of the wildest extravagance. 
The habitual dignity which long converse with the 
greatest minds has imparted to him will display itself 
in all his attempts ; and he will stand among his in- 
structors, not as an imitator, but a rival. 

These are the different stages of the art. But as I 
now address myself particularly to those students who 
have been this day rewarded for their happy passage 
through the first period, I can with no propriety sup- 
pose they want any help in the initiatory studies. My 
present design is to direct your view to distant excel- 
lence, and to show you the readiest path that leads 
to it. Of this I shall speak with such latitude as may 
leave the province of the professor unin\'aded ; and 
shall not anticipate those precepts which it is his busi- 
ness to give and your duty to understand. 

It is indisputably evident that a great part of every 
man's life must be employed in collecting materials 
for the exercise of genius. Invention, strictly speak- 
ing, is little more than a new combination of those 
images which have been previously gathered and 
deposited in the memory. Nothing can come of noth- 
ing; he who has laid up no materials can produce no 

1 Of the speaker's own art, in contradistinction to that of Gains- 
borough, a French critic says : " It is by the artifice of a perfected 


A student unacquainted with the attempts of former 
adventurers is ahvays apt to overrate his own abili- 
ties, — to mistake the most trifling excursions for dis- 
coveries of moment, and every coast new to him for 
a new-found country. If by chance he passes be- 
yond his usual limits, he congratulates his own arrival 
at those regions which they who have steered a better 
course have long left behind them. 

The productions of such minds are seldom distin- 
guished by an air of originality ; they are anticipated 
in their happiest efforts ; and if they are found to 
differ in any thing from their predecessors, it is only 
in irregular sallies and trifling conceits. The more 
extensive, therefore, your acquaintance is with the 
works of those who have excelled, the more exten- 
sive will be your powers of in\-ention ; and what may 
appear still more like a paradox, the more original 
will be your conceptions. But the difficulty on this 
occasion is to determine what ought to be proposed 
as models of excellence, and who ought to be con- 
sidered as the properest guides. 

To a young man just arrived in Ital}', many of the 
present painters of that country are ready enough to 
obtrude their precepts, and to offer their own per- 
formances as examples of that perfection which they 
affect to recommend. The modern, however, who 
recommends himself as a standard, ma\' justly be sus- 
pected as ignorant of the true end, and unacquainted 

science that Reynolds obtains such striking effects in his portraits. 
He forged for his own use a complete armory of weapons, a magazine 
of rules and well tried systems, which he had gathered and selected 
by a careful study of the old masters." — Chesneau, English 


with the proper object, of the art which he professes. 
To follow such a guide will not only retard the stu- 
dent, but mislead him. 

On whom, then, can he rely, or who shall show him 
the path that leads to excellence? The answer is 
obvious : those great masters who have travelled the 
same road with success are the most likely to con- 
duct others. The works of those who have stood the 
test of ages have a claim to that respect and venera- 
tion to which no modern can pretend. The duration 
and stability of their fame is sufficient to evince that 
it has not been suspended upon the slender thread of 
fashion and caprice, but bound to the human heart 
by every tie of sympathetic approbation. 

There is no danger of studying too much the works 
of those great men ; but how they may be studied to 
advantage is an inquiry of great importance. 

Some who have never raised their minds to the 
consideration of the real dignity of the art, and who 
rate the works of an artist in proportion as they excel 
or are defective in the mechanical parts, look on 
theory as something that may enable them to talk 
but not to paint better; and confining themselves 
entirely to mechanical practice, very assiduously toil 
on in the drudgery of copying, and think they make 
a rapid progress while they faithfully exhibit the mi- 
nutest part of a favorite picture. This appears to me 
a very tedious, and, I think, a very erroneous method 
of proceeding. Of every large composition, even of 
those which are most admired, a great part may be 
truly said to be commonplace. This, though it takes 
up much time in copying, conduces little to improve- 


merit. I consider general copying as a delusive kind 
of industry: the student satisfies himrelf with the 
appearance of doing something; he falls into the dan- 
gerous habit of imitating without selecting, and of 
laboring without any determinate object; as it re- 
quires no effort of the mind, he sleeps over his 
work; and those powers of invention and composi- 
tion which ought particularly to be called out and put 
in action, lie torpid and lose their energy for want 
of exercise. 

How incapable those are of producing anything of 
their own who have spent much of their time in mak- 
ing finished copies, is well known to all who are con- 
versant with our art. 

To suppose that the complication of powers and 
variety of ideas necessary to that mind which aspires 
to the first honors in the art of painting can be ob- 
tained by the frigid contemplation of a few single 
models, is no less absurd than it would be in him 
who wishes to be a poet to imagine that by translat- 
ting a tragedy he can acquire to himself sufficient 
knowledge of the appearances of nature, the opera- 
tions of the passions, and the incidents of life. 

The great use in copying, if it be at all useful, 
should seem to be in learning to color; yet even 
coloring will never be perfectly' attained by servileh" 
copying the model before you. An eye critical!}' 
nice can only be formed by observing well-colored 
pictures with attention; and by close inspection and 
minute examination you will discover, at last, the 
manner of handling, the artifices of contrast, glazing, 
and other expedients by which good colorists have 


raised the value of their tints, and by which nature 
has been so happily imitated. 

I must inform you, however, that old pictures, 
deservedly celebrated for their coloring-, are often so 
changed by dirt and varnish that we ought not to 
wonder if they do not appear equal to their reputa- 
tion in the eyes of unexperienced painters, or young 
students. An artist whose judgment is matured by 
long observation considers rather what the picture 
once was than what it is at present. He has by habit 
acquired a power of seeing the brilliancy of tints 
through the cloud by which it is obscured. An 
exact imitation, therefore, of those pictures is likely 
to fill the student's mind with false opinions, and to 
send him back a colorist of his own formation, with 
ideas equally remote from nature and from art, from 
the genuine practice of the masters and the real ap- 
pearances of things. 

Following these rules, and using these precautions, 
when you have clearly and distinctly learned in what 
good coloring consists, you cannot do better than 
have recourse to nature herself, who is always at 
hand, and in comparison of whose true splendor the 
best-colored pictures are but faint and feeble. 

However, as the practice of copying is not entirely 
to be excluded, since the mechanical practice of 
painting is learned in some measure by it, let those 
choice parts only be selected which have recom- 
mended the work to notice. If its excellence con- 
sists in its general effect, it would be proper to make 
slight sketches of the machinery and general manage- 
ment of the picture. Those sketches should be kept 


always by you for the regulation of your style. In- 
stead of cop}ing the touches of those great masters, 
copy only their conceptions. Instead of treading in 
their footsteps, endeavor only to keep the same road. 
Labor to invent on their general principles and way of 
thinking. Possess yourself with their sj^irit. Con- 
sider with yourself how a IMichael Angelo or a 
Raphael would have treated this subject, and work 
yourself into a belief that }'our picture is to be seen 
and criticised by them when completed. Even an 
attempt of this kind will rouse your powers. 

But as mere enthusiasm will carry you but a little 
way, let me recommend a practice that may be 
equivalent to and will, perhaps, more efficaciously 
contribute to your advancement than even the verbal 
corrections of those masters themselves, could they 
be obtained. What I would propose is that you 
should enter into a kind of competition, by painting 
a similar subject, and making a companion to any 
picture that you consider as a model. After you 
have finished your work, place it near the model, 
and compare them carefully together. You will then 
not only see but feel your own deficiencies more sen- 
sibly than by precepts or any other means of instruc- 
tion. The true principles of painting will mingle 
with your thoughts. Ideas thus fixed by sensible 
objects will be certain and definitive, and sinking 
deep into the mind will not onl\' be more just but 
more lasting than those presented to you b\' precepts 
only, which will always be fleeting, variable, and 

This method of comparing )'our own efforts with 


those of some great master is, indeed, a severe and 
mortifying task, to which none will submit but such 
as have great views, with fortitude sufficient to forego 
the gratifications of present vanity for future honor. 
When the student has succeeded in some measure to 
his own satisfaction, and has felicitated himself on his 
success, to go voluntarily to a tribunal where he knows 
his vanity must be humbled, and all self-approbation 
must vanish, requires not only great resolution but 
great humility. To him, however, who has the ambi- 
tion to be a real master, the solid satisfaction which 
proceeds from a consciousness of his advancement (of 
which seeing his own faults is the first step) will very 
abundantly compensate for the mortification of pres- 
ent disappointment. There is, besides, this alleviat- 
ing circumstance: every discovery he makes, every 
acquisition of knowledge he attains, seems to proceed 
from his own sagacity; and thus he acquires a confi- 
dence in himself sufficient to keep up the resolution 
of perseverance. 

We all must have experienced how lazily, and con- 
sequently, how ineffectually, instruction is received 
when forced upon the mind by others. Few have 
been taught to any purpose who have not been their 
own teachers. We prefer those instructions which 
we have given ourselves, from our affection to the 
instructor; and they are more effectual from being 
received into the mind at the v^ery time when it is 
most open and eager to receive them. 

With respect to the pictures that you are to choose 
for your models, I could wish that you would take 
the world's opinion rather than your own. In other 


words, I would have you choose those of established 
reputation rather than follow your own fancy. If 
you should not admire them at first, you will, by en- 
deavoring to imitate them, find that the world has not 
been mistaken. 

It is not an easy task to point out those various 
excellences for your imitation which lie distributed 
among the various schools. An endeavor to do 
this may, perhaps, be the subject of some future dis- 
course. I will, therefore, at present, only recommend 
a model for style in painting, which is a branch of 
the art more immediately necessary to the young- 
student. Style in painting^ is the same as in writing, 
a power over materials, whether words or colors, by 
which conceptions or sentiments are conveyed. And 
in this Ludovico Caracci (I mean in his best works) 
appears to me to approach the nearest to perfection.^ 
His unaffected breadth of light and shadow, the sim- 
plicity of coloring, which, holding its proper rank, 
does not draw aside the least part of the attention 

1 Tlie following definition is merely technical ; in the Third Dis- 
course Reynolds approaches the subject on its intellectual side. 

■■^ Sir Joshua throughout overrates the Caraccis. Ludovico (1555- 
r6i9),with his cousins Agostino and Annibale, founded the Bolognese 
Eclectic school, which includes Guido Reni, Domenichino, Sasso- 
ferrato, and Guercino. As Agostino said, their object was to "ac- 
quire the design of Rome, Venetian action and Venetian management 
of shade, the dignified color of Lombardy, the terrible manner of 
Michael Angelo, Titian's truth and nature, the sovereign purity of 
Correggio's style, and the just symmetry of Raphael," — briefly, to 
select and unite the salient merits of earlier schools; a vaulting am- 
bition, which, as Symonds puts it, "doomed their style to the sterility 
of hybrids." Let us not, however, underrate these once belauded, 
now vituperated painters, who, while they fell short of excellence, left 
many works that refuse to be dogmatized into contempt. 


from the subject, and the solemn effect of that twi- 
h"ght which seems diffused over his pictures, appear 
to me to correspond with grave and dignified sub- 
jects better than the more artificial brilliancy of sun- 
shine which enlightens the pictures of Titian, — though 
Tintoret thought that Titian's coloring was the model 
of perfection, and would correspond even with the 
sublime of Michael Angelo ; and that if Angelo had 
colored like Titian, or Titian designed like Angelo, 
the world would once have had a perfect painter. 

It is our misfortune, however, that those works of 
Caracci which I would recommend to the student are 
not often found out of Bologna. The " Saint Francis 
in the Midst of his Friars," " The Transfiguration,"' 
" The Birth of Saint John the Baptist," " The Calling 
of Saint Matthew," the " Saint Jerome," the fresco 
paintings in the Zampieri palace, are all worthy the 
attention of the student. And I think those who 
travel would do well to allot a much greater portion 
of their time to that city than it has been hitherto the 
custom to bestow. 

In this art, as in others, there are many teachers 
who profess to show the nearest way to excellence; 
and many expedients have been invented by which 
the toil of study might be saved. But let no man be 
seduced to idleness by specious promises. Excel- 
lence is never granted to man but as the reward of 
labor. It argues, indeed, no small strength of mind 
to persevere in habits of industry, without the pleas- 
ure of perceiving those advances; which, like the 
hands of a clock, while they make hourly approaches 
to their point, yet proceed so slowly as to escape ob- 


servation. A facility of drawing, like that of playing 
upon a musical instrument, cannot be acquired but 
by an infinite number of acts. I need not, therefore, 
enforce by many words the necessity of continual ap- 
plication, nor tell you that the porte-crayon ought 
to be forever in your hands. Various methods will 
occur to you b}' which this power may be acquired. 
I would particularly recommend that after your re- 
turn from the Academy (where I suppose your attend- 
ance to be constant), you would endeavor to draw the 
figure by memory. I will even venture to add that 
by perseverance in this custom you will become able 
to draw the human figure tolerably correctly, with as 
little cfi"ort of the mind as is required to trace with a 
pen the letters of the alphabet. 

That this facility is not unattainable, some mem- 
bers in this Academy give a sufficient proof. And 
be assured that if this power is not acquired while 
you are young, there will be no time for it after- 
wards ; at least, the attempt will be attended with 
as much difficulty as those experience who learn to 
read or write after they have arrived at the age of 

But while I mention the porte-crayon as the stu- 
dent's constant companion, he must still remember 
that the pencil is the instrument by which he must 
hope to obtain eminence. What, therefore, I wish to 
impress upon you is that, whenever an opportunity 
ofi"ers, you paint \'Our studies instead of drawing them. 
This will give you such a facility in using colors that 
in time they will arrange themselves under the pencil, 
even without the attention of the hand that conducts 


it. If one act excluded the other, this advice could 
not with any propriety be given. But if painting com- 
prises both drawing and coloring, and if, by a short 
struggle of resolute industry, the same expedition is 
attainable in painting as in drawing on paper, I can- 
not see what objection can justly be made to the prac- 
tice, or why that should be done by parts which may 
be done all together. 

If we turn our eyes to the several schools of paint- 
ing, and consider their respective excellences, we shall 
find that those who excel most in coloring pursued 
this method. The Venetian and Flemish schools, 
which owe much of their fame to coloring, have en- 
riched the cabinets of the collectors of drawings with 
very few examples. Those of Titian, Paul Veronese, 
Tintoret, and the Bassans, are in general slight and 
undetermined. Their sketches on paper are as rude 
as their pictures are excellent in regard to harmony 
of coloring. Correggio and Baroccio have left few, 
if any, finished drawings behind them. And in the 
Flemish school Rubens and Vandyck made their 
designs for the most part either in colors or in chiaro- 
oscuro. It is as common to find studies of the Vene- 
tian and Flemish painters on canvas as of the schools 
of Rome and Florence on paper. Not but that many 
finished drawings are sold under the names of those 
masters. Those, however, are undoubtedly the pro- 
ductions either of engravers or their scholars, who 
copied their works. 

These instructions I have ventured to offer from 
my own experience ; but as they deviate widely from 
received opinions I offer them with diflidence, and 


when better are suggested shall retract them without 

There is one precept, however, in which I shall 
only be opposed by the vain, the ignorant, and the 
idle. I am not afraid that I shall repeat it too often. 
You must have no dependence on your own genius. 
If you have great talents industry will improve them; 
if you have but moderate abilities industry will sup- 
ply their deficiency. Nothing is denied to well- 
directed labor; nothing is to be obtained without it. 
Not to enter into metaphysical discussions on the 
nature or essence of genius, I will venture to assert 
that assiduity unabated by difficulty, and a disposi- 
tion eagerly directed to the object of its pursuit, will 
produce effects similar to those which some call the 
result of natural powers.^ 

Though a man cannot at all times and in all places 
paint or draw, yet the mind can prepare itself by lay- 
ing in proper materials at all times and in all places. 
Both Livy and Plutarch, in describing Philopcemen, 
one of the ablest generals of antiquity, have given us 
a striking picture of a mind always intent on its pro- 
fession, and by assiduity obtaining those excellences 
which some all their lives vainly e.xpect from nature. 
I shall quote the passage in Livy at length, as it runs 
parallel with the practice I would recommend to the 
painter, sculptor, and architect : — 

^ " Tlie true genius is a mind of large general |)o\vers, accidentally 
determined to some particular direction. Sir Joshua Reynolds, tlie 
great jiaintcr of the present age, had the first fondness for his art ex- 
cited by the perusal of Richardson's treatise." — Dr. Johnson, Life 
of Ccnvhy. 


" Philopcemen was a man eminent for his sagacity and 
experience in choosing ground, and in leading armies ; to 
which he formed his mind by perpetual meditation, in times 
of peace as well as war. When in any occasional journey 
he came to a strait, difficult passage, if he was alone he 
considered with himself, and if he was in company he asked 
his friends what it would be best to do if in this place they 
had found an enemy, either in the front or in the rear, on 
the one side or on the other. ' It might happen,' says he, 
' that the enemy to be opposed might come on drawn up in 
regular lines, or in a tumultuous body formed only by the 
nature of the place.' He then considered a little what 
ground he should take ; what number of soldiers he should 
use, and what arms he should give them ; where he should 
lodge his carriages, his baggage, and the defenceless fol- 
lowers of his camp ; how many guards, and of what kind, 
he should send to defend them ; and whether it would be 
better to press forward along the pass, or recover by retreat 
his former station. He would consider likewise where his 
camp could most commodiously be formed ; how much 
ground he should enclose within his trenches ; where he 
should have the convenience of water, and where he might 
find plenty of wood and forage ; and when he should break 
up his camp on the following day, through what road he 
could most safely pass, and in what form he should dispose 
his troops. With such thoughts and disquisitions he had 
from his early years so exercised his mind that on these 
occasions nothing could happen which he had not been 
already accustomed to consider." 

T cannot help imagining that I see a promising 
young painter equally vigilant, whether at home or 
abroad, in the streets or in the fields. Every object 
that presents itself is to him a lesson. He regards all 
nature with a view to his profession, and combines 


her beauties or corrects her defects. He examines 
the countenances of men under the influence of pas- 
sion, and often catches the most pleasing hints from 
subjects of turbulence or deformity. Even bad pict- 
ures themselves supply him with useful documents ; 
and, as Leonardo da Vinci has observed, he improves 
upon the fanciful images that are sometimes seen in 
the fire, or are accidentally sketched upon a discolored 

The artist who has his mind thus filled with ideas, 
and his hand made expert by practice, works with 
ease and readiness ; while he who would ha\'e you 
believe that he is waiting for the inspirations of genius 
is in reality at a loss how to begin, and is at last de- 
livered of his monsters with difficulty and pain. 

The well-grounded painter, on the contrary, has 
only maturely to consider his subject, and all the me- 
chanical parts of his art follow without his exertion. 
Conscious of the difficulty of obtaining what he pos- 
sesses, he makes no pretensions to secrets, except 
those of closer application. Without conceiving the 
smallest jealousy against others, he is contented that 
all shall be as great as himself who have undergone 
the same fatigue ; and as his pre-eminence depends 
not upon a trick, he is free from the painful suspicions 
of a juggler who lives in perpetual fear lest his trick 
should be discovered. 

v.. J 


100 K^.cCAUL STR'TT 


Miss Kitty Fisher as Cleopatra. 


Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distri- 
bution of the Prizes, December 14, 1770. 


It is not easy to speak with propriety to so many 
students of different ages and different degrees of 
advancement. The mind requires nourishment 
adapted to its growth ; and what may have pro- 
moted our earlier efforts might retard us in our 
nearer approaches to perfection. 

The first endeavors of a young painter, as I have 
remarked in a former discourse, must be employed 
in the attainment of mechanical dexterity, and con- 
fined to the mere imitation of the object before him. 
Those who have advanced beyond the rudiments may, 
perhaps, find advantage in reflecting on the advice 
which I have likewise given them, when I recom- 
mended the diligent study of the works of our great 
predecessors ; but I at the same time endeavored to 
guard them against an implicit submission to the au- 
thority of any one master, however excellent, or, by 
a strict imitation of his manner, precluding themselves 

from the abundance and variety of nature. I will 



now add that nature herself is not to be too closely 
copied. There are excellences in the art of painting 
beyond what is commonly called the imitation of 
nature, and these excellences I wish to point out. 
The students who, having passed through the initia- 
tory exercises, are more advanced in the art, and who, 
sure of their hand, have leisure to exert their under- 
standing, must now be told that a mere copyist of 
nature can never produce anything great, can never 
raise and enlarge the conceptions, or warm the heart 
of the spectator. 

The wish of the genuine painter must be more ex- 
tensive; instead of endeavoring to amuse mankind 
with the minute neatness of his imitations, he must 
endeavor to improve them by the grandeur of his 
ideas ; instead of seeking praise by deceiving the 
superficial sense of the spectator, he must strive for 
fame by captivating the imagination. 

The principle now laid down, that the perfection of 
this art does not consist in mere imitation, is far from 
being new or singular. It is, indeed, supported by 
the general opinion of the enlightened part of man- 
kind. The poets, orators, and rhetoricians of an- 
tiquity are continually enforcing this position, — that 
all the arts receive their perfection from an ideal 
beauty, superior to what is to be found in individual 
nature. They are ever referring to the practice of 
the painters and sculptors of their times, particularly 
Phidias (the favorite artist of antiquity), to illustrate 
their assertions. As if they could not sufficiently 
express their admiration of his genius by what they 
knew, they have recourse to poetical enthusiasm; 


they call it inspiration, — a gift from heaven. The 
artist is supposed to have ascended the celestial re- 
gions, to furnish his mind with this perfect idea of 
beauty. "He," says Proclus,^ "who takes for his 
model such forms as nature produces, and confines 
himself to an exact imitation of them, will never 
attain to what is perfectly beautiful ; for the works of 
nature are full of disproportion, and fall very short of 
the true standard of beauty. So that Phidias, when 
he formed his Jupiter, did not copy any object ever 
presented to his sight, but contemplated only that 
image which he had conceived in his mind from 
Homer's description." And thus Cicero, speaking of 
this same Phidias: "Neither did this artist," says 
he, " when he carved the image of Jupiter or Minerva, 
set before him any one human figure, as a pattern 
which he was to copy ; but having a more perfect 
idea of beauty fixed in his mind, this is steadily con- 
templated, and to the imitation of this all his skill and 
labor were directed." 

The moderns are not less convinced than the an- 
cients of this superior power existing in the art, nor 
less sensible of its eftccts. Every language has 
adopted terms expressive of this excellence. The 
gusto grande of the Italians, the beaii ideal of the 
French, and "great style," "genius," and "taste" 
among the English, are but different appellations of 
the same thing.- It is this intellectual dignity, they 

' Lib. 2, in Timaeum Platonis, as cited by Junius de Pictura 
Veterum. — R. 

* " The art is greatest which includes the greatest ideas. . . . 
Great art is precisely that which never was, nor will be, taught ; it is 


say, that ennobles the painter's art, — that lays the 
line between him and the mere mechanic, and pro- 
duces those great effects in an instant which elo- 
quence and poetry by slow and repeated efforts are 
scarcely able to attain. 

Such is the warmth with which both the ancients 
and moderns speak of this divine principle of the art ; 
but, as I have formerly observed, enthusiastic admi- 
ration seldom promotes knowledge. Though a stu- 
dent by such praise may have his attention roused, 
and a desire excited of running in this great career, 
yet it is possible that what has been said to excite 
may only serve to deter him. He examines his own 
mind, and perceives there nothing of that divine in- 
spiration with which he is told so many others have 
been favored. He never travelled to heaven to 
gather new ideas ; and he finds himself possessed of 
no other qualifications than what mere common ob- 
servation and a plain understanding can confer. 
Thus he becomes gloomy amid the splendor of 
figurative declamation, and thinks it hopeless to pur- 
sue an object which he supposes out of the reach of 
human industry. 

But on this, as upon many other occasions, we 
ought to distinguish how much is to be given to 
enthusiasm, and how much to reason. We ought to | 
allow for, and we ought to commend that strength of 
vivid expression which is necessary to convey, in its 
full force, the highest sense of the most complete 
effect of art ; taking care at the same time not to 

pre-eminently and finally the expression of the spirits of great men." 



lose in terms of vague admiration that solidity and 
truth of principle upon which alone we can reason, 
and may be enabled to practise. 

It is not easy to define in what this great style 
consists ; nor to describe, by words, the proper 
means of acquiring it, — if the mind of the student 
should be at all capable of such an acquisition. 
Could we teach taste or genius by rules, they would 
be no longer taste and genius. But though there 
neither are, nor can be, any precise invariable rules 
for the exercise, or the acquisition, of these great 
qualities, yet we may truly say that they always 
operate in proportion to our attention in observing 
the works of nature, to our skill in selecting, and to 
our care in digesting, methodizing, and comparing 
our observations. There are many beauties in our 
art that seem, at first, to lie without the reach of pre- 
cept, and yet may easily be reduced to practical 
principles. Experience is all in all ; but it is not 
every one who profits by experience ; and most 
people err, not so much from want of capacity to 
find their object, as from not knowing what object to 
pursue. This great ideal perfection and beauty are 
not to be sought in the heavens, but upon the earth. 
They are about us, and upon every side of us. But 
the power of discovering what is deformed in nature, 
or, in other words, what is particular and uncommon, 
can be acquired only by experience ; and the whole 
beauty and grandeur of the art consists, in my opinion, 
in being able to get above all singular forms, local 
customs, particularities, and details of every kind. 

All the objects which are exhibited to our view by 


nature, upon close examination will be found to have 
their blemishes and defects. The most beautiful 
forms have something about them like weakness, 
minuteness, or imperfection. But it is not every eye 
that perceives these blemishes. It must be an eye 
long used to the contemplation and comparison of 
these forms, and which, by a long habit of observing 
what any set of objects of the same kind have in com- 
mon, has acquired the power of discerning what each 
wants in particular. This long, laborious comparison 
should be the first study of the painter who aims at 
the great style. By this means he acquires a just 
idea of beautiful forms ; he corrects nature by herself, 
her imperfect state by her more perfect. His eye 
being enabled to distinguish the accidental deficien- 
cies, excrescences, and deformities of things from 
their general figures, he makes out an abstract idea 
of their forms more perfect than any one original ; 
and what may seem a paradox, he learns to design 
naturally by drawing his figures unlike to any one 
object. This idea of the perfect state of nature, 
which the artist calls the ideal beauty, is the great 
leading principle by which works of genius are con- 
ducted. By this Phidias acquired his fame. He 
wrought upon a sober principle what has so much 
excited the enthusiasm of the world ; and by this 
method you who have courage to tread the same 
path may acquire equal reputation. 

This is the idea which has acquired, and which 
seems to have a right to, the epithet of divine ; as it 
may be said to preside, like a supreme judge, over 
all the productions of nature, appearing to be pes- 


sessed of the will and intention of the Creator, as far 
as they regard the external form of living beings. 
When a man once possesses this idea in its perfec- 
tion there is no danger but that he will be suffi- 
ciently warmed by it himself, and be able to warm 
and ravish every one else. 

Thus it is from a reiterated experience, and a close 
comparison of the objects in nature, that an artist 
becomes possessed of the idea of that central form, if 
I may so express it, from which every deviation is 
deformity. But the investigation of this form, I grant, 
is painful, and I know but of one method of shorten- 
ing the road; this is by a careful study of the works 
of the ancient sculptors; who, being indefatigable in 
the school of nature, have left models of that perfect 
form behind them which an artist would prefer as 
supremely beautiful who had spent his v/hole life in 
that single contemplation. But if industry carried 
them thus far, may not you also hope for the same 
reward from the same labor? We have the same 
school opened to us that was opened to them ; for 
nature denies her instructions to none who desire to 
become her pupils. 

This laborious investigation, I am aware, must 
appear superfluous to those who think everything is 
to be done by felicity and the powers of native genius. 
Even the great Bacon treats with ridicule the idea 
of confining proportion to rules, or of producing 
beauty by selection. " A man cannot tell," says he, 
" whether Apelles or Albert Diirer were the more 
trifler: whereof the one would make a personage by 
geometrical proportions ; the other, by taking the 


best parts out of divers faces, to make one excellent. 
. , . The painter," he adds, " must do it by a kind 
of felicity . . . and not by rule." 

It is not safe to question any opinion of so great a 
writer and so profound a thinker as undoubtedly 
Bacon was. But he studies brevity to excess ; and 
therefore his meaning is sometimes doubtful. If he 
means that beauty has nothing to do with rule he is 
mistaken. There is a rule, obtained out of general 
nature, to contradict which is to fall into deformity. 
Whenever anything is done beyond this rule it is in 
virtue of some other rule which is followed along with 
it, but which does not contradict it. Everything 
which is wrought with certainty is wrought upon some 
principle. If it is not, it cannot be repeated. If 
by felicity is meant anything of chance or hazard, or 
something born with a man, and not earned, I cannot 
agree with this great philosopher. Every object 
which pleases must give us pleasure upon some cer- 
tain principles ; but as the objects of pleasure are 
almost infinite, so their principles vary without end, 
and every man finds them out, not by felicity or suc- 
cessful hazard, but by care and sagacity. 

To the principle I have laid down, that the idea of 
beauty in each species of beings is an invariable one, 
it may be objected that in every particular species 
there are various central forms, which are separate 
and distinct from each other, and yet are undeniably 
beautiful ; that in the human figure, for instance, the 
beauty of Hercules is one, of the Gladiator another, of 
the Apollo another ; which makes so many different 
ideas of beauty. 


It is true, indeed, that these figures are each perfect 
in their kind, though of ditterent characters and pro- 
portions; but still none of them is the representation 
of an individual, but of a class. And as there is one 
general form which, as I have said, belongs to the 
liuman kind at large, so in each of these classes there 
is one common idea and central form which is the 
abstract of the various individual forms belonging to 
that class. Thus, though the forms of childhood and 
age differ exceedingly, there is a common form in 
childhood, and a common form in age, which is the 
more perfect as it is more remote from all peculiari- 
ties. But I must add, further, that though the most 
perfect forms of each of the general divisions of the 
human figure are ideal and superior to any individual 
form of that class, yet the highest perfection of the 
human figure is not to be found in any one of them. 
It is not in the Hercules, nor in the Gladiator, "nor in 
the Apollo ; but in that form which is taken from all, 
and which partakes equally of the activity of the Glad- 
iator, of the delicacy of the Apollo, and of the mus- 
cular strength of the Hercules. For perfect beaut}- 
in an}' species must combine all the characters which 
are beautiful in that species. It cannot consist in an}' 
one to the exclusion of the rest ; no one, therefore, 
must be predominant, that no one ma}' be deficient. 

The knowledge of these different characters, and 
the power of separating and distinguishing them, is 
undoubtedly necessary to the painter, who is to vary 
his compositions with figures of various forms and 
proportions, though he is never to lose sight of the 
general idea of perfection in each kind. 


There is, likewise, a kind of symmetry, or propor- 
tion, which may properly be said to belong to de- 
formity. A figure lean or corpulent, tall or short, 
though deviating from beauty, may still have a cer- 
tain union of the various parts, which may contribute 
to make them on the whole not unpleasing. 

When the artist has by diligent attention acquired 
a clear and distinct idea of beauty and symmetry, 
when he has reduced the variety of nature to the 
abstract idea, his next task will be to become ac- 
quainted with the genuine habits of nature, as dis- 
tinguished from those of fashion. For in the same 
manner, and on the same principles, as he has ac- 
quired the knowledge of the real forms of nature, 
distinct from accidental deformity, he must endeavor 
to separate simple, chaste nature from those adventi- 
tious, those affected and forced airs or actions, with 
which she is loaded by modern education. 

Perhaps I cannot better explain what I mean than 
by reminding you of what was taught us by the pro- 
fessor of anatomy, in respect to the natural position 
and movement of the feet. He observed that the 
fashion of turning them outwards was contrary to the 
intent of nature, as might be seen from the structure 
of the bones, and from the weakness that proceeded 
from that manner of standing. To this we may add 
the erect position of the head, the projection of the 
chest, the walking with straight knees, and many 
such actions, which we know to be merely the 
result of fashion, and what nature never warranted, 
as we are sure that we have been taught them when 


I have mentioned but a few of those instances in 
which vanity or caprice have contrived to distort and 
disfigure the human form; your own recollection 
will add to these a thousand more of ill-understood 
methods, which have been practised to disguise 
nature among our dancing-masters, hairdressers, and 
tailors, in their various schools of deformity.^ 

However the mechanic and ornamental arts may 
sacrifice to Fashion, she must be entirely excluded 
from the art of painting; the painter must never 
mistake this capricious changeling for the genuine 
ofifspring of nature. He must divest himself of all 
prejudices in favor of his age or country; he must 
disregard all local and temporary ornaments, and 
look only on those general habits which are every- 
where and always the same.- He addresses his works 
to the people of every country and every age ; he 
calls upon posterity to be his spectators, and says, 
with Zeuxis, " In cEternitatem pijigo." 

The neglect of separating modern fashions from 
the habits of nature leads to that ridiculous style 
which has been practised by some painters, who have 
given to Grecian heroes the airs and graces practised 

' " Those," says Quintilian, "who are taken with the outward show 
of things think that there is more beauty in persons who are trimmed, 
curled, and painted, than uncorrupt nature can give ; as if beauty 
were merely the effect of the corruption of manners." — R. 

" " Nearly every word that Reynolds wrote was contrary to his own 
practice ... he enforced with his lips generalization and idealism, 
while with his pencil he was tracing the patterns of the dresses of the 
belles of the day ; he exhorted his pupils to attend only to the in- 
variable, while he himself was occupied in distinguishing every varia- 
tion of womanly temper ; and he denied the existence of the beautiful 
at the same instant that he arrested it as it passed, and perpetuated it 
forever." — Ruskin, Mo<L Painters, Part iv. c. iii. 


in the court of Louis XIV., — an absurdity almost as 
sreat as it would have been to have dressed them 
after the fashion of that court. 

To avoid this error, however, and to retain the true 
simplicity of nature, is a task more difficult than at 
first sight it may appear. The prejudices in favor of 
the fashions and customs that we have been used to, 
and which are justly called a second nature, make it 
too often difficult to distinguish that which is natural 
from that which is the result of education ; they fre- 
quentl}^ even give a predilection in favor of the artifi- 
cial mode ; and almost every one is apt to be guided 
by those local prejudices who has not chastised his 
mind, and regulated the instability of his aff"ections 
by the eternal, invariable idea of nature. 

Here, then, as before, we must have recourse to 
the ancients as instructors. It is from a careful study 
of their works that you will be enabled to attain to 
the real simplicity of nature ; they will suggest many 
observations which would probably escape you if 
your study were confined to nature alone. And, 
indeed, I cannot help suspecting that, in this in- 
stance, the ancients had an easier task than the 
moderns. They had, probably, little or nothing to 
unlearn, as their manners were nearly approaching to 
this desirable simplicity; while the modern artist, 
before he can see the truth of things, is obliged to 
remove a veil, with which the fashion of the times has 
thought proper to cover her. 

Having gone thus far in our investigation of the 
great style in painting, if we now should suppose 
that the artist has found the true idea of beauty. 


which enables him to give his works a correct and 
perfect design ; if we should suppose, also, that he 
has acquired a knowledge of the unadulterated habits 
of nature, which gives him simplicity ; the rest of his 
task is, perhaps, less than is generally imagined. 
Beauty and simplicity have so great a share in the 
composition of a great style that he who has ac- 
quired them has little else to learn. It must not, 
indeed, be forgotten that there is a nobleness of con- 
ception which goes beyond anything in the mere 
exhibition even of perfect form ; there is an art of 
animating and dignifying the figures with intellectual 
grandeur, of impressing the appearance of philo- 
sophic wisdom, or heroic virtue. This can only be 
acquired by him that enlarges the sphere of his 
understanding by a variety of knowledge, and warms 
his imagination with the best productions of ancient 
and modern poetry. 

A hand thus exercised, and a mind thus instructed, 
will bring the art to a higher degree of excellence 
than, perhaps, it has hitherto attained in this country. 
Such a student will disdain the humbler walks of 
painting, which, however profitable, can never assure 
him a permanent reputation. He will leave the 
meaner artist servilely to suppose that those are the 
best pictures which are most likely to deceive the 
spectator. He will permit the lower painter, like the 
florist or collector of shells, to exhibit the minute dis- 
criminations which distinguish one object of the same 
species from another; while he, like the philosopher, 
will consider nature in the abstract, and represent in 
every one of his figures the character of its species. 


If deceiving the eye were the only business of the 
art, there is no doubt, indeed, but the minute painter 
would be more apt to succeed; but it is not the eye, 
it is the mind which the painter of genius desires to 
address; nor will he waste a moment upon those 
smaller objects which only serve to catch the sense, 
to divide the attention, and to counteract his great 
design of speaking to the heart. 

This is the ambition which I wish to excite in 
your minds ; and the object I have had in my view 
throughout this discourse is that one great idea 
which gives to painting its true dignity, which entitles 
it to the name of a liberal art, and ranks it as a sister 
of poetry. 

It may possibly have happened to many young 
students, whose application was sufficient to over- 
come all difficulties, and whose minds were capable 
of embracing the most extensive views, that they 
have, by a wrong direction originally given, spent 
their lives in the meaner walks of painting, without 
ever knowing there was a nobler to pursue. Albert 
Diirer, as Vasari has justly remarked, would probably 
have been one of the first painters of his age (and 
he lived in an era of great artists) had he been ini- 
tiated into those great principles of the art which 
were so well understood and practised by his contem- 
poraries in Italy. But, unluckily, having never seen 
nor heard of any other manner, he, without doubt, 
considered his own as perfect. 

As for the various departments of painting which 
do not presume to make such high pretensions, they 
are many. None of them are without their merit, 


though none enter into competition with this univer- 
sal presiding idea of the art. The painters who have 
applied themselves more particularly to low and vul- 
gar characters, and who express with precision the 
various shades of passion as they are exhibited by 
vulgar minds (such as we see in the works of 
Hogarth), deserve great praise; but as their genius 
has been employed on low and confined subjects, the 
praise which we give must be as limited as its object. 
The merrymaking or quarrelling of the boors of 
Teniers, the same sort of productions of Brouwer 
or Ostade, are excellent in their kind; and the excel- 
lence and its praise will be in proportion as, in those 
limited subjects and peculiar forms, they introduce 
more or less of the expression of those passions as 
they appear in general and more enlarged nature. 
This principle may be applied to the battle-pieces of 
Bourgognone, the French gallantries of Watteau, and 
even beyond the exhibition of animal life, to the 
landscapes of Claude Lorraine, and the sea views of 
Vandervelde. All these painters have, in general, 
the same right, in different degrees, to the name of a 
painter, which a satirist, an epigrammatist, a sonnet- 
eer, a writer of pastorals or descriptive poetry, has 
to that of a poet. 

In the same rank, and perhaps of not so great 
merit, is the cold painter of portraits. But his cor- 
rect and just imitation of his object has its merit. 
Even the painter of still life, whose highest ambition 
is to give a minute representation of every part of 
those low objects which he sets before him, deserves 
praise in proportion to his attainment, because no 


part of this excellent art, so much the ornament of 
polished life, is destitute of value and use. These, 
however, are by no means the views to which the 
mind of the student ought to be primarily directed. 
Having begun by aiming at better things, if from 
particular inclination, or from the taste of the time 
and place he lives in, or from necessity, or from 
failure in the highest attempts, he is obliged to 
descend lower, he will bring into the lower sphere of 
art a grandeur of composition and character that will 
raise and ennoble his works far above their natural 

A man is not weak, though he may not be able to 
wield the club of Hercules ; nor does a man always 
practise that which he esteems the best, but does 
that which he can best do. In moderate attempts 
there are many walks open to the artist. But as the 
idea of beauty is of necessity but one, so there can 
be but one great mode of painting, — the leading prin- 
ciple of which I have endeavored to explain. 

I should be sorry if what is here recommended 
should be at all understood to countenance a careless 
or undetermined manner of painting. For, though 
the painter is to overlook the accidental discrimina- 
tions of nature, he is to exhibit distinctly and with 
precision the general forms of things. A firm and 
determined outline is one of the characteristics of the 
great style in painting; and let me add that he who 
possesses the knowledge of the exact form which 
every part of nature ought to have, will be fond of 
expressing that knowledge with correctness and pre- 
cision in all his works. 


To conclude : I have endeavored to reduce the 
idea of beauty to general principles ; and I had the 
pleasure to observe that the professor of painting 
proceeded in the same method, when he showed you 
that the artifice of contrast was founded but on one 
principle. I am convinced that this is the only 
means of advancing science, — of clearing the mind 
from a confused heap of contradictory observations 
that do but perplex and puzzle the student when he 
compares them, or misguide him if he gives himself 
up to their authority ; bringing them under one 
general head can alone give rest and satisfaction to 
an inquisitive mind. 

Liiiv Sophui S/. Asaph and Child. 


Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distri- 
bution oj the Prizes, December lo, 1771. 


The value and rank of every art is in proportion to 
the mental labor employed in it, or the mental pleas- 
ure produced by it. As this principle is observed or 
neglected, our profession becomes either a liberal art 
or a mechanical trade. In the hands of one man it 
makes the highest pretensions, as it is addressed to 
the noblest faculties ; in those of another it is reduced 
to a mere matter of ornament, and the painter has 
but the humble province of furnishing our apartments 
with elegance. 

This exertion of mind, which is the only circum- 
stance that truly ennobles our art, makes the great 
distinction between the Roman and Venetian schools. 
I have formerly observed that perfect form is pro- 
duced by leaving out particularities and retaining only 
general ideas ; I shall now endeavor to show that 
this principle, which I have proved to be metaphysi- 


cally just, extends itself to every part of the art; that 
it gives what is called the grand style to invention, to 
composition, to expression, and even to coloring and 

Invention in painting does not imply the invention 
of the subject, for that is commonly supplied by the 
poet or historian.^ With respect to the choice, no 
subject can be proper that is not generally interest- 
ing. It ought to be either some eminent instance of 
heroic action or heroic suffering. There must be 
something, either in the action or in the object, in 
which men are univ^ersally concerned, and which 
powerfully strikes upon the public sympathy. 

Strictly speaking, indeed, no subject can be of uni- 
versal, hardly can it be of general, concern ; but there 
are events and characters so popularly known, in those 
countries where our art is in request, that they may 
be considered as sufficiently general for all our pur- 
poses. Such are the great events of Greek and 
Roman fable and history, which early education and 
the usual course of reading have made familiar 
and interesting to all Europe, without being de- 
graded by the vulgarism of ordinary life in any coun- 
try. Such, too, are the capital subjects of Scripture 
history, which, besides their general notoriety, become 
venerable by their connection with our religion. 

As it is required that the subject selected should 
be a general one, it is no less necessary that it should 
be kept unembarrassed with whatever may any way 

1 "Invention and novelty in his subjects are far from being the prin- 
cipal things we look for in an artist; a familiar subject furthers and 
renders more easy the effect of his art." — Lessing. 


serve to divide the attention of the spectator. When- 
ever a story is related every man forms a picture in 
his mind of the action and expression of the persons 
employed. The power of representing this mental 
picture on canvas is what we call invention in a 
painter. And as, in the conception of this ideal pict- 
ure, the mind does not enter into the minute pecu- 
liarities of the dress, furniture, or scene of action, so, 
when the painter comes to represent it, he contrives 
those little necessary concomitant circumstances in 
such a manner that they shall strike the spectator no 
more than they did himself in his first conception of 
the story. 

I am very ready to allow that some circumstances of 
minuteness and particularity frequently tend to give 
an air of truth to a piece, and to interest the spec- 
tator in an extraordinary manner. Such circum- 
stances, therefore, cannot wholly be rejected ; but if 
there be anything in the art which requires peculiar 
nicety of discernment, it is the disposition of these 
minute circumstantial parts; which, according to the 
judgment employed in the choice, become so useful 
to truth, or so injurious to grandeur. 

However, the usual and most dangerous error is on 
the side of minuteness; and, therefore, I think cau- 
tion most necessary where most have failed. The 
general idea constitutes real excellence. All smaller 
things, however perfect in their way, are to be sacri- 
ficed without mercy to the greater. The painter will 
not inquire what things may be admitted without 
much censure; he will not think it enough to show 
that they may be there ; he will show that they must 


be there, — that their absence would render his picture 
maimed and defective. 

Thus, though to the principal group a second or 
third be added, and a second and third mass of light, 
care must be taken that these subordinate actions and 
lights, neither each in particular nor all together, 
come into any degree of competition with the prin- 
cipal ; they should merely make a part of that whole 
which would be imperfect without them. To every 
kind of painting this rule may be applied. Even in 
portraits, the grace, and, we may add, the likeness, 
consists more in taking the general air than in observ- 
ing the exact similitude of every feature. 

Thus figures must have a ground whereon to stand ; 
they must be clothed ; there must be a background ; 
there must be light and shadow; but none of these 
ought to appear to have taken up any part of the ar- 
tist's attention. They should be so managed as not 
even to catch that of the spectator. We know well 
enough, when we analyze a piece, the difficulty and 
the subtlety with which an artist adjusts the back- 
ground drapery and masses of light; we know that a 
considerable part of the grace and effect of his pict- 
ure depends upon them ; but this art is so much 
concealed, even to a judicious eye, that no remains of 
any of these subordinate parts occur to the memory 
when the picture is not present. 

The great end of the art is to strike the imagina- 
tion. The painter, therefore, is to make no ostenta- 
tion of the means by which this is done ; the spectator 
is only to feel the result in his bosom. An inferior 
artist is unwilling that any part of his industry should 


be lost upon the spectator. He takes as much pains 
to discover, as the greater artist does to conceal, the 
marks of his subordinate assiduity. In works of the 
lower kind everything appears studied and encum- 
bered; it is all boastful art and open affectation. The 
ignorant often part from such pictures with wonder 
in their mouths and indifference in their hearts. 

But it is not enough in invention that the artist 
should restrain and keep under all the inferior parts 
of his subject; he must sometimes deviate from vul- 
gar and strict historical truth in pursuing the grandeur 
of his design. 

How much the great style exacts from its profes- 
sors to conceive and represent their subjects in a 
poetical manner, not confined to mere matter of fact, 
may be seen in the cartoons of Raphael. In all the 
pictures in which the painter has represented the 
apostles, he has drawn them with great nobleness ; 
he has given them as much dignity as the human 
figure is capable of receiving; yet we are expressly 
told in Scripture they had no such respectable ap- 
pearance ; and of Saint Paul, in particular, we are 
told by himself that his bodily presence was mean. > 
Alexander is said to have been of a low stature ; a 
painter ought not so to represent him. Agesilaus 
was low, lame, and of a mean appearance ; none of 
these defects ought to appear in a piece of which he 
is the hero. In conformity to custom, I call this part 
of the art History Painting; it ought to be called 
Poetical, as in reality it is. 

All this is not falsifying any fact; it is taking an 
allowed poetical license. A painter of portraits re- 


tains the individual likeness ; a painter of history- 
shows the man by showing his action. A painter 
must compensate the natural deficiencies of his art. 
He has but one sentence to utter, but one moment to 
exhibit.^ He cannot, like the poet or historian, ex- 
patiate, and impress the mind with great veneration 
for the character of the hero or saint he represents, 
though he lets us know, at the same time, that the 
samt was deformed or the hero lame. The painter 
has no other means of giving an idea of the dignity 
of the mind but by that external appearance which 
grandeur of thought does generally, though not al- 
ways, impress on the countenance, and by that cor- 
respondence of figure to sentiment and situation 
which all men wish, but cannot command. The 
painter who may in this one particular attain with 
ease what others desire in vain, ought to give all that 
he possibly can, since there are so many circum- 
stances of true greatness that he cannot give at all. 
He cannot make his hero talk like a great man ; he 
must make him look like one. For which reason he 
ought to be well studied in the anal)'sis of those cir- 
cumstances which constitute dignity of appearance in 
real life. 

As in invention, so likewise in expression, care 
must be taken not to run into particularities. Those 

1 "Behold, I said, the painter's sphere! 
The limits of his art appear . . . 
In outward semblance he must give 
A moment's life of things that live ; 
Then let him choose his moment well, 
With power divine its story tell." 
Matthew Arnold : Epilogue to Lesshig's Laocobn. 


expressions alone should be given to the figures 
which their respective situations generally produce. 
Nor is this enough ; each person should also have 
that expression which men of his rank generally ex- 
hibit. The joy or the grief of a character of dignity 
is not to be expressed in the same manner as a 
similar passion in a vulgar face. Upon, this princi- 
ple, Bernini, perhaps, may be subject to censure. 
This sculptor, in many respects admirable, has given 
a very mean expression to his statue of David, who 
is represented as just going to throw the stone from 
the sling ; and, in order to give it the expression of 
energy, he has made him biting his under lip. This 
expression is far from being general, and still far- 
ther from being dignified. He might have seen it 
in an instance or two ; and he mistook accident for 

With respect to coloring, though it may appear at 
first a part of painting merely mechanical, yet it still 
has its rules, and those grounded upon that presiding 
principle which regulates both the great and the 
little in the study of a painter. By this, the first 
effect of the picture is produced ; and as this is per- 
formed, the spectator, as he walks the gallery, will 
stop, or pass along. To give a general air of gran- 
deur at first view, all trifling, or artful play of little 
lights, or an attention to a variety of tints, is to be 
avoided; a quietness and simplicity must reign over 
the whole work ; to which a breadth of uniform and 
simple color will very much contribute. Grandeur 
of effect is produced by two different ways, which 
seem entirely opposed to each other. One is, by 


reducing the colors to little more than chiaro-oscuro, 
which was often the practice of the Bolognian schools ; 
and the other, by making the colors very distinct and 
forcible, such as we see in those of Rome and Flor- 
ence; but still, the presiding principle of both those 
manners is simplicity. Certainly, nothing can be 
more simple than monotony; and the distinct blue, 
red, and yellow colors which are seen in the dra- 
peries of the Roman and Florentine schools, though 
they have not that kind of harmony which is produced 
by a variety of broken and transparent colors, have 
that effect of grandeur which was intended. Perhaps 
these distinct colors strike the mind more forcibly 
from there not being any great union between them ; 
as martial music, which is intended to rouse the 
nobler passions, has its effect from the sudden and 
strongly marked transitions from one note to another 
which that style of music requires ; while in that 
which is intended to move the softer passions, the 
notes imperceptibly melt into one another. 

In the same manner as the historical painter never 
enters into the detail of colors, so neither does he de- 
base his conceptions with minute attention to the dis- 
criminations of drapery. It is the inferior style that 
marks the variety of stuffs. With him the clothing is 
neither woollen, nor linen, nor silk, satin, or velvet: 
it is drapery; it is nothing more. The art of dispos- 
ing the foldings of the drapery makes a very consid- 
erable part of the painter's study. To make it merely 
natural is a mechanical operation, to which neither 
genius nor taste are required; whereas it requires the 
nicest judgment to dispose the drapery so that the 


folds shall have an easy communication, and grace- 
fully follow each other with such natural negligence as 
to look like the effect of chance, and at the same time 
show the figure under it to the utmost advantage. 

Carlo Maratti was of opinion that the disposition 
of drapery was a more difficult art than even that of 
drawing the human figure ; that a student might be 
more easily taught the latter than the former ; as the 
rules of drapery, he said, could not be so well ascer- 
tained as those for delineating a correct form. This, 
perhaps, is a proof how willingly we fa\or our own 
peculiar excellence. Carlo Maratti is said to have 
valued himself particularly upon his skill in this 
part of his art; yet in him the disposition appears 
so ostentatiously artificial that he is inferior to Ra- 
phael, even in that which gave him his best claim to 

Such is the great principle by which we must be 
directed in the nobler branches of our art. Upon 
this principle, the Roman, the Florentine, the Bo- 
lognese schools have formed their practice ; and by 
this they have deservedly obtained the highest praise. 
These are the three great schools of the world in the 
epic style. The best of the French school, Poussin, 
Le Sueur, and Le Brun, have formed themselves 
upon these models, and consequently may be said, 
though Frenchmen, to be a colony from the Roman 
school. Next to these, but in a very different style 
of excellence, we may rank the Venetian, together 
with the Flemish and Dutch schools; ail professing 
to depart from the great purposes of painting, and 
catching at applause by inferior qualities. 


I am not ignorant that some will censure me for 
placing the Venetians in this inferior class, and many 
of the warmest admirers of painting will think them 
unjustly degraded; but I wish not to be misunder- 
stood. Though I can by no means allow them to hold 
any rank with the nobler schools of painting, they ac- 
complished perfectly the thing they attempted. But 
as mere elegance is their principal object, as they 
seem more willing to dazzle than to affect, it can be 
no injury to them to suppose that their practice 
is useful only to its proper end. But what may 
heighten the elegant may degrade the sublime. 
There is a simplicity, and, I may add, severity, in 
the great manner, which is, I am afraid, almost in- 
com.patible with this comparatively sensual style. 

Tintoret, Paul Veronese, and others of the Vene- 
tian school, seem to have painted with no other pur- 
pose than to be admired for their skill and expertness 
in the mechanism of painting, and to make a parade 
of that art, which, as I before observed, the higher 
style requires its followers to conceal. 

In a conference of the French Academy, at which 
were present Le Brun, Sebastian Bourdon, and all 
the eminent artists of that age, one of the Academi- 
cians desired to have their opinion on the conduct of 
Paul Veronese, who, though a painter of great con- 
sideration, had, contrary to the strict rules of art, in 
his picture of Perseus and Andromeda, represented 
the principal figure in shade. To this question no 
satisfactory answer was then given. But I will ven- 
ture to say that, if they had considered the class of 
the artist, and ranked him as an ornamental painter. 


there would have been no difficulty in answering: 
" It was unreasonable to expect what was never in- 
tended. His intention was solely to produce an 
effect of light and shadow ; everything was to be 
sacrificed to that intent, and the capricious composi- 
tion of that picture suited very well with the style 
which he professed." 

Young minds are indeed too apt to be captivated 
by this splendor of style, and that of the Vene- 
tians is particularly pleasing; for by them all those 
parts of the art that gave pleasure to the eye or 
sense have been cultivated with care, and carried to 
the degree nearest to perfection. The powers exerted 
in the mechanical part of the art have been called 
" the language ot painters ; " but we may say that it 
is but poor eloquence which only shows that the 
orator can talk. Words should be employed as the 
means, not as the end ; language is the instrument, 
conviction is the work.^ 

The language of painting must indeed be allowed 
these masters ; but even in that they have shown 
more copiousness than choice, and more luxuriancy 
than judgment. If we consider the uninteresting sub- 
jects of their invention, or at least the uninteresting 

1 " In art, men have frequently fancied that they were becoming 
rhetoricians and poets when they were only learning to speak melo- 
diously, and the judge has over and over again advanced to the honor 
of authors those who never were more than ornamental writing 
masters. . . . No weight, nor mass, nor beauty of execution can 
outweigh one grain or fragment of thought. Three penstrokes of 
Raphael are a greater and a better picture than the most finished 
work that ever Carlo Dolci polished into inanity." 

RUSKIN, Modern Painters. 


manner in which they are treated ; if we attend to 
their capricious composition, their violent and affected 
contrasts, whether of figures or of hght and shadow, 
the richness of their drapery, and at the same time 
the mean effect which the discrimination of stuffs 
gives to their pictures; if to these we add their total 
inattention to expression ; and then reflect on the 
conceptions and the learning of Michael Angelo, or 
the simplicity of Raphael, we can no longer dwell on 
the comparison. Even in coloring, if we compare the 
quietness and chastity of the Bolognese pencil to the 
bustle and tumult that fills every part of a Venetian 
picture, without the least attempt to interest the pas- 
sions, their boasted art will appear a mere struggle 
without effect, — "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound 
and fury, signifying nothing." 

Such as suppose that the great style might happily 
be blended with the ornamental, that the simple, grave, 
and majestic dignity of Raphael could unite with the 
glow and bustle of a Paolo or Tintoret, are totally 
mistaken. The principles by which each is attained 
are so contrary to each other that they seem, in my 
opinion, incompatible, and as impossible to exist to- 
gether, as that in the mind the most sublime ideas 
and the lowest sensuality should at the same time be 

1 " Their glory " (the great masters) " is their dissimilarity, and 
they who propose to themselves in the training of an artist that he 
should unite the coloring of Tintoret, the finish of Albert Durer, and 
the tenderness of Correggio, are no wiser than a horticulturist would 
be, who made it the object of his labor to produce a fruit which should 
unite in itself the lusciousness of the grape, the crispness of the nut, 
and the fragrance of the pine." — RusKiN, Modern Painters. 


The subjects of the Venetian painters are mostly 
such as give them an opportunity of introducing a 
great number of figures, — such as feasts, marriages, 
and processions, pubhc martyrdoms, or miracles. I 
can easily conceive that Paul Veronese, if he were 
asked, would say that no subject was proper for an 
historical picture, but such as admitted at least forty 
figures; for in a less number, he would assert, there 
could be no opportunity of the painter's showing his 
art in composition, his dexterity of managing and dis- 
posing the masses of light and groups of figures, and 
of introducing a variety of Eastern dresses and char- 
acters in their rich stuffs. 

But the thing is very different with a pupil of the 
greater schools. Annibale Caracci thought twelve 
figures sufficient for any story ; he conceived that 
more would contribute to no end but to fill space; 
that they would be but cold spectators of the general 
action, or, to use his own expression, that they would 
be figures to be let. Besides, it is impossible for a 
picture composed of so many parts to have that effect 
so indispensably necessary to grandeur, that of one 
complete whole. However contradictory it may be 
in geometry, it is true in taste, that man}' little things 
will not make a great one. The sublime impresses 
the mind at once with one great idea, — it is a sin- 
gle blow; the elegant, indeed, may be produced 
by repetition, by an accumulation of many minute 

However great the difference is between the com- 
position of the Venetian and the rest of the Italian 
schools, there is full as great a disparity in the eft'ect 


of their pictures as produced by colors. And though 
in this respect the Venetians must be allowed ex- 
traordinary skill, yet even that skill, as they have em- 
ployed it, will but ill correspond with the great style. 
Their coloring is not only too brilliant, but, I will 
venture to say, too harmonious, to produce that so- 
lidity, steadiness, and simplicity of effect, which heroic 
subjects require, and which simple or grave colors 
only can give to a work. That they are to be cau- 
tiously studied by those who are ambitious of tread- 
ing the great walk of history is confirmed, if it wants 
confirmation, by the greatest of all authorities, Michael 
Angelo. This wonderful man, after having seen a pic- 
ture by Titian, told Vasari, who accompanied him, 
"that he liked much his coloring and manner; " 
but then he added that " it was a pity the Venetian 
painters did not learn to draw correctly in their early 
youth, and adopt a better manner of study T 

By this it appears that the principal attention of the 
Venetian painters, in the opinion of Michael Angelo, 
seemed to be engrossed by the study of colors, to the 
neglect of the ideal beauty of form, or propriety of 
expression. But if general censure was given to that 
school from the sight of a picture of Titian, how much 
more heavily and more justly would the censure fall 
on Paolo Veronese, and more especially on Tintoret ! 
And here I cannot avoid citing Vasari's opinion of 
the style and manner of Tintoret. 

" Of all the extraordinary geniuses," says he, "that have 
practised the art of painting, for wild, capricious, extrava- 
gant, and fantastical inventions, for furious impetuosity and 
boldness in the execution of his work, there is none like 


Tintoret ; his strange whimsies are even beyond extrava- 
gance ; and his works seem to be produced rather by 
chance than in consequence of any previous design, as if 
he wanted to convince the world that the art was a trifle, 
and of the most easy attainment." 

For my own part, when I speak of the Venetian 
painters, I wish to be understood to mean Paolo 
Veronese and Tintoret, to the exclusion of Titian ; 
for thoufrh his style is not so pure as that of many 
other of the Italian schools, yet there is a sort of sena- 
torial dignity about him, which, however awkward in 
his imitators, seems to become him exceedingly. His 
portraits alone, from the nobleness and simplicity of 
character which he always gave them, will entitle him 
to the greatest respect, as he undoubtedly stands in 
the first rank in this branch of the art. 

It is not with Titian, but with the seducing quali- 
ties of the two former, that I could wish to caution 
you against being too much captivated. These are 
the persons who may be said to have exhausted all 
the powers of florid eloquence to debauch the young 
and inexperienced ; and have, without doubt, been 
the cause of turning off the attention of the connois- 
seur and of the patron of art, as well as that of the 
painter, from those higher excellences of which the 
art is capable, and which ought to be required in 
every considerable production. By them and their 
imitators, a style merely ornamental has been dissemi- 
nated throughout all Europe. Rubens carried it to 
Flanders, Voet to France, and Luca Giordano to 
Spain and Naples. 

The Venetian is indeed the most splendid of the 


schools of elegance ; and it is not without reason 
that the best performances in this lower school are 
valued higher than the second-rate performances of 
those above them ; for every picture has value when 
it has a decided character, and is excellent in its kind. 
But the student must take care not to be so much 
dazzled with this splendor as to be tempted to imi- 
tate what must ultimately lead from perfection. 
Poussin, whose eye was always steadily fixed on the 
sublime, has been often heard to say, " that a particu- 
lar attention to coloring was an obstacle to the stu- 
dent in his progress to the great end and design of 
the art; and that he who attaches himself to this 
principal end will acquire by practice a reasonably 
good method of coloring." 

Though it be allowed that elaborate harmony of 
coloring, a brilliancy of tints, a soft and gradual tran- 
sition from one to another, present to the eye what 
an harmonious concert of music does to the ear, it 
must be remembered that painting is not merely a 
gratification of the sight. Such excellence, though 
properly cultivated where nothing higher than ele- 
gance is intended, is weak and unworthy of regard 
when the work aspires to grandeur and sublimity. 

The same reasons that have been urged to show 
that a mixture of the Venetian style cannot improve 
the great style will hold good in regard to the Flem- 
ish and Dutch schools. Indeed, the Flemish school, 
of which Rubens is the head, was formed upon that 
of the Venetian ; ^ like them, he took his figures too 

^ "The conditions of art in Flanders — wealthy, bourgeois, \)ro\xA, 
free — were not dissimilar to those of art in Venice. As Van Ejck 


much from the people before him. But it must be 
allowed in favor of the Venetians, that he was more 
gross than they, and carried all their mistaken methods 
to a far greater excess. In the Venetian school itself, 
where they all err from the same cause, there is a 
difference in the effect. The difference between Paolo 
and Bassano seems to be only that one introduced 
Venetian gentlemen into his pictures, and the other 
the boors of the district of Bassano, and called them 
patriarchs and prophets. 

The painters of the Dutch school have still more 
locality. With them a history-piece is properly a 
portrait of themselves ; whether they describe the 
inside or outside of their houses, we have their own 
people engaged in their own peculiar occupations, — 
working or drinking, playing or fighting. The cir- 
cumstances that enter into a picture of this kind are 
so far from giving a general view of human life that 
they exhibit all the minute particularities of a nation 
differing in several respects from the rest of mankind. 
Yet let them have their share of more humble praise. 
The painters of this school are excellent in their own 
way; they are only ridiculous when they attempt 
general history on their own narrow principles, 
and debase great events by the meanness of their 

Some inferior dexterity, some extraordinary me- 
chanical power, is apparently that from which they 
seek distinction. Thus, we see that school alone has 
the custom of representing candle-light, not as it 

is to the Vivarini, so is Rubens to Paolo Veronese. This expresses 
the amount of likeness and difference."-^ Symonds : iii. 362, n. 


really appears to us by night, but red, as it would 
illuminate objects to a spectator by day. Such 
tricks, however pardonable in the little style, where 
petty effects are the sole end, are inexcusable in the 
greater, where the attention should never be drawn 
aside by trifles, but should be entirely occupied by 
the subject itself. 

The same local principles which characterize the 
Dutch school extend even to their landscape paint- 
ers ; and Rubens himself, who has painted many 
landscapes,^ has sometimes transgressed in this par- 
ticular. Their pieces in this way are, I think, always 
a representation of an individual spot, and each in its 
kind a very faithful but a very confined portrait. 
Claude Lorrain, on the contrary, was convinced that 
taking nature as he found it seldom produced beauty. 
His pictures are a composition of the various draughts 
which he had previously made from various beautiful 
scenes and prospects. However, Rubens in some 
measure has made amends for the deficiency with 
which he is charged ; he has contrived to raise and 
aoimate his otherwise uninteresting views by intro- 
ducing a rainbow, storm, or some particular acci- 
dental effect of light. That the practice of Claude 
Lorrain, in respect to his choice, is to be adopted by 
landscape-painters in opposition to that of the Flem- 
ish and Dutch schools, there can be no doubt, as its 

^ Rubens "perhaps furnishes us with the first instances of complete, 
unconventional, unaffected landscape. His treatment is healthy, 
manly, rational, not very affectionate, yet often condescending to 
minute and multitudinous detail ; always, as far as it goes, pure, 
forcible, and refreshing, consummate in composition, and marvellous 
in color." — RUSKIN, Modern Painters. 


truth is founded upon the same principle as that by 
which the historical painter acquires perfect form. 
But whether landscape-painting has a right to aspire 
so far as to reject what the painters call accidents of 
nature, is not easy to determine. It is certain Claude 
Lorrain seldom, if ever, availed himself of those acci- 
dents ; either he thought that such peculiarities were 
contrary to that style of general nature which he 
professed, or that it would catch the attention too 
strongly, and destroy that quietness and repose which 
he thought necessary to that kind of painting. 

A portrait-painter likewise, when he attempts his- 
tory, unless he is upon his guard, is likely to enter 
too much into the detail. He too frequently makes 
his historical heads look like portraits ; and this was 
once the custom among those old painters, who re- 
vived the art before general ideas were practised or 
understood. A history-painter paints man in gen- 
eral ; a portrait-painter, a particular man, and conse- 
quently a defective model. 

Thus an habitual practice in the lower exercises of 
the art will prevent many from attaining the greater. 
But such of us who move in these humbler walks of 
the profession are not ignorant that, as the natural 
dignity of the subject is less, the more all the little 
ornamental hel[)s are necessary to its embellishment. 
It would be ridiculous for a painter of domestic 
scenes, of portraits, landscapes, animals, or still life, 
to say that he despised those qualities which have 
made the subordinate schools so famous. The art 
of coloring, and the skilful management of light and 
shadow, are essential requisites in his confined labors. 


If we descend still lower, what is the painter of fruit 
and flowers without the utmost art in coloring, and 
what the painters call handling; that is, a lightness 
of pencil that implies great practice, and gives the 
appearance of being done with ease? Some here, I 
believe, must remember a flower-painter whose boast 
it was, that he scorned to paint for the million ; no, 
he professed to paint in the true Italian taste; and, 
despising the crowd, called strenuously upon the few 
to admire him. His idea of the Italian taste was to 
paint as black and dirty as he could, and to leave 
all clearness and brilliancy of coloring to those 
who were fonder of money than immortality. The 
consequence was such as might be expected. For 
these petty excellences are here essential beauties ; 
and without this merit the artist's work will be more 
short-lived than the objects of his imitation. 

From what has been advanced, we must now be 
convinced that there are two distinct styles in his- 
tory-painting, — the grand, and the splendid, or 

The great style stands alone, and does not require, 
perhaps does not so well admit, any addition from 
inferior beauties. The ornamental style also pos- 
sesses its own peculiar merit. However, though the 
union of the two may make a sort of composite style, 
yet that style is likely to be more imperfect than 
either of those which go to its composition. Both 
kinds have merit, and may be excellent though in 
different ranks, if uniformity be preserved, and the 
general and particular ideas of nature be not mixed. 
Even the meanest of them is difficult enough to at- 


tain ; and the first place being already occupied by 
the great artists in each department, some of those 
who followed thought there was less room for them ; 
and feeling the impulse of ambition and the desire of 
novelty, and being at the same time, perhaps, willing 
to take the shortest way, endeavored to make for 
themselves a place between both. This they have 
effected by forming a union of the different orders. 
But as the grave and majestic style would suffer by 
a union with the florid and gay, so also has the 
Venetian ornament in some respect been injured by 
attempting an alliance with simplicity. 

It may be asserted that the great style is always 
more or less contaminated by any meaner mixture. 
But it happens in a few instances that the lower may 
be improved by borrowing from the grand. Thus, if 
a portrait-painter is desirous to raise and improve his 
subject, he has no other means than by approaching 
it to a general idea. He leaves out all the minute 
breaks and peculiarities in the face, and changes the 
dress from a temporary fashion to one more perma- 
nent, which has annexed to it no ideas of meanness 
from its being familiar to us. But if an exact resem- 
blance of an individual be considered as the sole 
object to be aimed at, the portrait-painter will be apt 
to lose more than he gains by the acquired dignity 
taken from general nature. It is very difficult to 
ennoble the character of a countenance but at the 
expense of the likeness, which is what is most gener- 
ally required by such as sit to the painter. 

Of those who have practised the composite style, 
and have succeeded in this perilous attempt, perhaps 


the foremost is Correggio. His style is founded 
upon modern grace and elegance, to which is super- 
added something of the simplicity of the grand style. 
A breadth of light and color, the general ideas of the 
drapery, an uninterrupted flow of outline, all conspire 
to this effect. Next to him (perhaps equal to him), 
Parmegiano has dignified the genteelness of modern 
effeminacy, by uniting it with the simplicity of the 
ancients and the grandeur and severity of Michael 
Angelo. It must be confessed, however, that these 
two extraordinary men, by endeavoring to give the 
utmost degree of grace, have sometimes, perhaps, 
exceeded its boundaries, and have fallen into the 
most hateful of all hateful qualities, — affectation. 
Indeed, it is the peculiar characteristic of m.en of 
genius to be afraid of coldness and insipidity, from 
which they think they never can be too far remov^ed. 
It particularly happens to these great masters of 
grace and elegance. They often boldly drive on to 
the very verge of ridicule ; the spectator is alarmed, 
but at the same time admires their vigor and 

" Strange graces still, and stranger flights they had, 

Yet ne'er so sure our passion to create, 

As when they touch'd the brink of all we hate." 

The errors of genius, however, are pardonable, and 
none even of the more exalted painters are wholly 
free from them; but they have taught us, by the 
rectitude of their general practice, to correct their 
own affected or accidental deviation. The very first 
have not been always upon their guard, and perhaps 


there is not a fault but what may take shelter under 
the most venerable authorities ; yet that style only is 
perfect in which the noblest principles are uniformly 
pursued ; and those masters only are entitled to the 
first rank in our estimation who have enlarged the 
boundaries of their art, and have raised it to its high- 
est dignity, by exhibiting the general ideas of nature. 
On the whole, it seems to me that there is but one 
presiding principle which regulates and gives stability 
to every art. The works, whether of poets, painters, 
moralists, or historians, which are built upon general 
nature, live forever; while those which depend for 
their existence on particular customs and habits, a 
partial view of nature, or the fluctuation of fashion, 
can only be coeval with that which first raised them 
from obscurity. Present time and future may be 
considered as rivals ; and he who solicits the one 
must expect to be discountenanced by the other. 

A//s\ Menicli 


Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distri- 
bution of the Prizes, December lo, 1772. 


I PURPOSE to carry on in this discourse the subject 
which I began in my last. It was my wish upon that 
occasion to incite you to pursue the higher excel- 
lences of the art. But I fear that in this particular I 
have been misunderstood. Some are ready to im- 
agine, when any of their favorite acquirements in the 
art are properly classed, that they are utterly dis- 
graced. This is a very great mistake; nothing has 
its proper lustre but in its proper place. That which 
is most worthy of esteem in its allotted sphere be- 
comes an object, not of respect, but of derision, when 
it is forced into a higher, to which it is not suited ; 
and there it becomes doubly a source of disorder, by 
occupying a situation which is not natural to it, and 


by putting down from the first place what is in reality 
of too much magnitude to become with grace and 
proportion that subordinate station, to which some- 
thing of less value would be much better suited. 

My advice, in a word, is this : keep your princi- 
pal attention fixed upon the higher excellences. If 
you compass them, and compass nothing more, you 
are still in the first class. We may regret the innum- 
erable beauties which you may want ; you may be 
very imperfect ; but still you are an imperfect artist 
of the highest order. 

If, when you have got thus far, you can add any, 
or all, of the subordinate qualifications, it is my wish 
and advice that you should not neglect them. But 
this is as much a matter of circumspection and cau- 
tion at least, as of eagerness and pursuit. 

The mind is apt to be distracted by a multiplicity 
of objects ; and that scale of perfection which I wish 
always to be preserved is in the greatest danger of 
being totally disordered, and even inverted. 

Some excellences bear to be united, and are im- 
proved by union; others are of a discordant nature, 
and the attempt to join them only produces a harsh 
jarring of incongruent principles. The attempt to 
unite contrary excellences (of form, for instance) 
in a single figure can never escape degenerating into 
the monstrous but by sinking into the insipid, — by 
taking away its marked character, and weakening its 

This remark is true to a certain degree with regard 
to the passions. If you mean to preserve the most 
perfect beauty in its most perfect state, you cannot 


express the passions, all of which produce distortion 
and deformity, more or less, in the most beautiful 
faces. ^ 

Guido, from want of choice in adapting his subject 
to his ideas and his powers, or from attempting to 
preserve beauty where it could not be preserved, has 
in this respect succeeded very ill. His figures are 
often engaged in subjects that require great expres- 
sion ; yet his Judith and Holofernes, the daughter 
of Herodias with the Baptist's head, the Andromeda, 
and some even of the Mothers of the Innocents, have 
little more expression than his Venus attired by the 

Obvious as these remarks appear, there are many 
writers on our art who, not being of the profession, 
and consequently not knowing what can or cannot be 
done, have been very liberal of absurd praises in their 
descriptions of favorite works. They always find in 
them what they are resolved to find. They praise 
excellences that can hardly exist together; and, 
above all things, are fond of describing, with great 
exactness, the expression of a mixed passion, which 
more particularly appears to me out of the reach of 
our art. 

Such are many disquisitions which I have read on 
some of the cartoons and other pictures of Raphael, 

' There are passions and degrees of passion, which are expressed 
by the ugliest possible contortions of countenance, and throw the 
whole body into such a forced position that all the beautiful lines 
which cover its surface are lost. From all such emotions the ancient 
masters either abstained entirely, or reduced them to that lower de- 
gree in which they are capable of a certain measure of beauty. Rage 
and despair disgraced none of their productions ; I dare maintain 
that they have never painted a Fury. — Lessino, The Laocoott. 


where the critics have described their own imagina- 
tions ; or, indeed, where the excellent master himself 
may have attempted this expression of passions above 
the powers of the art, and has, therefore, by an indis- 
tinct and imperfect marking, left room for every im- 
agination, with equal probability, to find a passion of 
his own. What has been, and what can be done in 
the art, is sufficiently difficult; we need not be morti- 
fied or discouraged at not being able to execute the 
conceptions of a romantic imagination. Art has its 
boundaries, though imagination has none. We can 
easily, like the ancients, suppose a Jupiter to be pos- 
sessed of all those powers and perfections which the 
subordinate deities were endowed with separately. 
Yet, when they employed their art to represent him, 
they confined his character to majesty alone. Pliny, 
therefore, though we are under great obligations to 
him for the information he has given us in relation to 
the works of the ancient artists, is very frequently 
wrong when he speaks of them, which he does very 
often, in the style of many of our modern connois- 
seurs. He observes that in a statue of Paris, by 
Euphranor, you might discover, at the same time, 
three different characters: the dignity of a judge of 
the goddesses, the lover of Helen, and the conqueror 
of Achilles. A statue in which you endeavor to 
unite stately dignity, youthful elegance, and stern 
valor, must surely possess none of these to any emi- 
nent degree. 

From hence it appears, that there is much diffi- 
culty, as well as danger, in an endeavor to concen- 
trate, in a single subject, those various powers which, 


rising from different points, naturally move in differ- 
ent directions. 

The summit of excellence seems to be an assem- 
blage of contrary qualities, but mixed in such pro- 
portions that no one part is found to counteract the 
other. How hard this is to be attained in every art, 
those only know who have made the greatest prog- 
ress in their respective professions. 

To conclude what I have to say on this part of the 
subject, which I think of great importance, I wish you 
to understand that I do not discourage the younger 
students from the noble attempt of uniting all the 
excellences of art ; but suggest to them, that, besides 
the difficulties which attend every arduous attempt, 
there is a peculiar difficulty in the choice of the ex- 
cellences which ought to be united. I wish to attend 
to this, that you may try yourselves, whenever you 
are capable of that trial, what you can and what you 
cannot do; and that, instead of dissipating your 
natural faculties over the immense field of possible 
excellence, you may choose some particular walk, in 
which you may exercise all your powers in order that 
each of you may become the first in his way. If any 
man shall be master of such a transcendent, com- 
mandincj, and ductile fjcnius, as to enable him to rise 
to the highest, and to stoop to the lowest, flights of 
art, and to sweep over all of them, unobstructed and 
secure, he is fitter to give example than to receive 

Having said thus much on the union of excellences, 
I will next say something of the subordination in 
which various excellences ought to be kept. 


I am of opinion that the ornamental style, which, 
in my discourse of last year, I cautioned you against 
considering as principal, may not be wholly unworthy 
the attention even of those who aim at the grand style, 
when it is properly placed and properly reduced. 

But this study will be used with far better effect, if 
its principles are employed in softening the harshness 
and mitigating the rigor of the great style, than if it 
attempt to stand forward with any pretensions of its 
own to positive and original excellence. It was thus 
Ludovico Caracci, whose example I formerly recom- 
mended to you, employed it. He was acquainted 
with the works both of Correggio and the Venetian 
painters, and knew the principles by which they pro- 
duced those pleasing efTects which, at the first glance, 
prepossess us so much in their favor ; but he took 
only as much from each as would embellish, but not 
overpower, that manly strength and energy of style 
which is his peculiar character. 

Since I have already expatiated so largely in my 
former discourse, and in ni}- present, upon the styles 
and characters of painting, it will not be at all unsuit- 
able to my subject if I mention to you some partic- 
ulars relative to the leading principles and capital 
works of those who excelled in the great style, that 
I may bring you from abstraction nearer to practice, 
and, by exemplifying the positions which I have laid 
down, enable you to understand more clearly what I 
would enforce. 

The principal works of modern art are in fresco, a 
mode of painting which excludes attention to minute 
elegances ; yet these works in fresco are the produc- 


tions on which the fame of the greatest masters de- 
pends. Such are the pictures of Michael Angelo 
and Raphael in the Vatican ; to which we may add 
the cartoons ; which, though not strictly to be called 
fresco, yet may be put under that denomination ; and 
such are the works of Giulio Romano at Mantua. If 
these performances were destroyed, with them would 
be lost the best part of the reputation of those illus- 
trious painters ; for these are justly considered as the 
greatest effort of our art which the world can boast. 
To these, therefore, we should principally direct our 
attention for higher excellences. As for the lower 
arts, as they have been once discovered, they may be 
easily attained by those possessed of the former. 

Raphael, who stands in general foremost of the 
first painters, owes his reputation, as I have observed, 
to his excellence in the higher parts of the art; his 
works in fresco, therefore, ought to be the first 
object of our study and attention. His easel-works 
stand in a lower degree of estimation ; for though he 
continually, to the day of his death, embellished his 
performances more and more with the addition of 
those lower ornaments which entirely make the 
merit of some painters, yet he never arrived at such 
perfection as to make him an object of imitation. 
He never was able to conquer perfectly that dryness, 
or even littleness of manner, which he inherited from 
his master. He never acquired that nicety of taste 
in colors, that breadth of light and shadow, that art 
and management of uniting light to light, and shadow 
to shadow, so as to make the object rise out of the 
ground, with the plenitude of effect so much admired 



in the works of Correggio.^ When he painted in oil, 
his hand seemed to be so cramped and confined that 
he not only lost that facility and spirit, but I think 
even that correctness of form, which is so perfect and 
admirable in his fresco-works. I do not recollect 
any pictures of his of this kind, except the " Trans- 
figuration," in which there are not some parts that 
appear to be even feebly drawn. That this is not a 
necessary attendant on oil-painting, we have abun- 
dant instances in more modern painters. Ludovico 
Caracci, for instance, preserved in his works in oil 
the same spirit, vigor, and correctness which he had 
in fresco. I have no desire to degrade Raphael from 
the high rank which he deservedly holds ; but by 
comparing him with himself, he does not appear to 
me to be the same man in oil as in fresco. 

From those who have ambition to tread in this 
great walk of the art, Michael Angelo claims the 
next attention. He did not possess so many excel- 
lences as Raphael, but those which he had were of 
the highest kind. He considered the art as consist- 
ing of little more than what maybe attained by sculp- 
ture, — correctness of form and energy of character. 
We ought not to expect more than an artist intends 
in his work. He never attempted those lesser ele- 
gances and graces in the art. Vasari says he never 

^ I have no hesitation in saying that, froip the technical point of 
view, Raphael himself never came to maturity as a painter. . . . He 
advanced with great rapidity as a draughtsman, and brought the art 
of drawing, as he understood it, to a sudden maturity, but his painting 
did not advance at the same rate, and the o:\\\ rational account of 
him is that he was a draughtsman who colored his drawings deli- 
cately — Hamerton, Graphic Arts. 


painted but one picture in oil, and resolved never to 
paint another, saying it was an employment only fit 
for women and children. 

If any had a right to look down upon the 
lower accomplishments as beneath his attention, it 
was certainly Michael Angelo; nor can it be thought 
strange that such a mind should have slighted or 
have been withheld from paying due attention to all 
those graces and embellishments of art which have 
diffused such lustre over the works of other painters. 

It must be acknowledged, however, that together 
with these, which we wish he had more attended to, 
he has rejected all the false, though specious orna- 
ments which disgrace the works even of the most 
esteemed artists ; and I will venture to say that when 
those higher excellences are more known and culti- 
vated by the artists and the patrons of arts, his fame 
and credit will increase with our increasing knowl- 
edge. His name will then be held in the same ven- 
eration as it was in the enlightened age of Leo X. ; 
and it is remarkable that the reputation of this truly 
great man has been continually declining as the art 
itself has declined. For I must remark to you that 
it has long been much on the decline, and that our 
only hope of its revival will consist in }our being 
thoroughly sensible of its depravation and decay. It 
is to Michael Angelo that we owe even the existence 
of Raphael; it is to him Raphael owes the grandeur 
of his style. He was taught by him to elevate his 
thoughts, and to conceive his subjects with dignity. 
His genius, however, formed to blaze and shinci 
might, like fire in combustible matter, forever have 


lain dormant if it had not caught a spark by its con- 
tact with Michael Angelo ; and though it never burst 
out with his extraordinary heat and vehemence, yet 
it must be acknowledged to be a more pure, reg- 
ular, and chaste flame. Though our judgment must, 
upon the whole, decide in favor of Raphael, yet he 
never takes such a firm hold and entire possession 
of the mind as to make us desire nothing else, and 
to feel nothing wanting. The effect of the capital 
works of Michael Angelo perfectly corresponds to 
what Bouchardon said he felt from reading Homer; 
his whole frame appeared to himself to be enlarged, 
and all nature which surrounded him diminished to 

If we put these great artists in a light of compari- 
son with each other, Raphael had more taste and 
fancy, Michael Angelo more genius and imagination. 
The one excelled in beauty, the other in energy. 
Michael Angelo has more of the poetical inspiration; 
his ideas are vast and sublime; his people are a 
superior order of beings ; there is nothing about 
them, nothing in the air of their actions, or their at- 
titudes, or the style and cast of their limbs or feat- 
ures, that reminds us of their belonging to our ow^n 
species. Raphael's imagination is not so elevated ; 
his figures are not so much disjoined from our own 
diminutive race of beings, though his ideas are 
chaste, noble, and of great conformity to their sub- 
jects. Michael Angelo's works have a strong, pecu- 
liar, and marked character ; they seem to proceed 
from his own mind entirely, and that mind so rich 
and abundant that he never needed, or seemed to 


disdain, to look abroad for foreign help. Raphael's 
materials are generally borrowed, though the noble 
structure is his own. The excellence of this ex- 
traordinary man lay in the propriety, beauty, and 
majesty of his characters, the judicious contrivance 
of his composition, his correctness of drawing, purity 
of taste, and skilful accommodation of other men's 
conceptions to his own purpose Nobody excelled 
him in that judgment with which he united to his 
own observations on nature the energy of Michael 
Angelo and the beauty and simplicity of the antique. 
To the question, therefore, which ought to hold the 
first rank, Raphael or Michael Angelo, it must be 
answered that if it is to be given to him who pos- 
sessed a greater combination of the higher qualities 
of the art than any other man, there is no doubt but 
Raphael is the first. But if, as Longinus thinks, the 
sublime, being the highest excellence that human 
composition can attain to, abundantly compensates 
the absence of every other beauty, and atones for all 
other deficiencies, then Michael Angelo demands the 

These two extraordinar\' men carried some of the 
higher excellences of the art to a greater degree of 
perfection than probably they ever arrived at before. 
They certainly have not been excelled, nor equalled 
since. Many of their successors were induced to 
leave this great road as a beaten path, endeavoring 
to surprise and please by something uncommon or 
new. When this desire of novelty has proceeded 
from mere idleness or caprice, it is not worth the 
trouble of criticism ; but when it has been the result 


of a busy mind of a peculiar complexion, it is always 
striking and interesting, never insipid. 

Such is the great style, as it appears in those who 
possessed it at its height ; in this, search after 
novelty, in conception or in treating the subject, has 
no place. 

But there is another style, which, though inferior to 
the former, has still great merit, because it shows that 
those who cultivated it were men of lively and vigor- 
ous imagination. This, which may be called the origi- 
nal or characteristical style, being less referred to any 
true archetype existing either in general or particular 
nature, must be supported by the painter's consistency 
in the principles which he has assumed, and in the 
union and harmony of his whole design. The excel- 
lence of every style, but of the subordinate styles more 
especially, will very much depend on preserving that 
union and harmony between all the component parts 
that they may appear to hang well together, as if the 
whole proceeded from one mind. It is in the works 
of art as in the characters of men. The faults or 
defects of some men seem to become them when 
they appear to be the natural growth, and of a piece 
with the rest of their character. A faithful picture of 
a mind, though it be not of the most elevated kind, 
though it be irregular, wild, and incorrect, yet if it be 
marked with that spirit and firmness which charac- 
terize works of genius, will claim attention, and be 
more striking than a combination of excellences that 
do not seem to unite well together; or we may say, 
than a work that possesses even all excellences, but 
those in a moderate degree. 


One of the strongest-marked characters of this 
kind, which must be allowed to be subordinate to the 
great style, is that of Salvator Rosa. He gives us a 
peculiar cast of nature, which, though void of all 
grace, elegance, and simplicity, though it has nothing 
of that elevation and dignity which belongs to the 
grand style, yet has that sort of dignity which belongs 
to savage and uncultivated nature ; but what is most 
to be admired in him is the perfect correspondence 
which he observed between the subjects which he 
chose and his manner of treating them. Everything 
is of a piece; his rocks, trees, sky, even to his hand- 
ling, have the same rude and wild character which 
animates his figures. 

With him we may contrast the character of Carlo 
Maratti, who, in my opinion, had no great vigor of 
mind or strength of original genius. He rarely seizes 
the imagination by exhibiting the higher excellences, 
nor does he captivate us by that originality which 
attends the painter who thinks for himself. He 
knew and practised all the rules of art, and from a 
composition of Raphael. Caraccl, and Guido, made 
up a style of which the only fault vv^as that it had no 
manifest defects and no striking beauties, and that 
the principles of his composition are never blended 
together so as to form one uniform body, original in 
its kind, or excellent in any view. 

I will mention two other painters, who, though en- 
tirely dissimilar, yet, by being each consistent with 
himself, and possessing a manner entirely his own, 
have both gained reputation, though for very oppo- 
site accomplishments. The painters I mean are 


Rubens and Poussin. Rubens I mention in this 
place, as I think him a remarkable instance of the 
same mind being seen in all the various parts of the 
art. The whole is so much of a piece that one can 
scarce be brought to believe but that if any one of 
the qualities he possessed had been more correct and 
perfect, his works would not have been so complete 
as they now appear. If we should allow him a greater 
purity and correctness of drawing, his want of sim- 
plicity in composition, coloring, and drapery, would 
appear more gross. 

In his composition his art is too apparent. His 
figures have expression and act with energy, but 
without simplicity or dignity. His coloring, in which 
he is eminently skilled, is, notwithstanding, too much 
of what we call tinted. Throughout the whole of his 
works there is a proportionable want of that nicety of 
distinction and elegance of mind which is required in 
the higher walks of painting ; and to this want it may 
be in some degree ascribed that those qualities which 
make the excellence of this subordinate style appear 
in him with their greatest lustre Indeed, the facility 
with which he invented, the richness of his composi- 
sition, the luxuriant harmony and brilliancy of his 
coloring, so dazzle the eye, that while his works con- 
tinue before us, we cannot help thinking that all his 
deficiencies are fully supplied. 

Opposed to this florid, careless, loose, and inaccu- 
rate style, that of the simple, careful, pure and cor- 
rect style of Poussin seems to be a complete contrast. 
Yet however opposite their characters, in one thing 
they agreed, both of them always preserving a per- 


feet correspondence between all the parts of their re- 
spective manners; insomuch that it may be doubted 
whether any alteration of what is considered as de- 
fective in either would not destroy the effect of the 

Poussin lived and conversed with the ancient statues 
so long that he may be said to have been better ac- 
quainted with them than with the people who were 
about him. I have often thought that he carried his 
veneration for them so far as to wish to give his works 
the air of ancient paintings. It is certain he copied 
some of the antique paintings, particularly the Mar- 
riage in the Aldobrandini Palace at Rome, which I 
believe to be the best relic of those remote ages that 
has yet been found. 

No works of any modern have so much of the air 
of antique painting as those of Poussin. His best 
performances have a remarkable dryness of manner, 
which though by no means to be recommended for 
imitation, yet seems perfectly correspondent to that 
ancient simplicit)' which distinguishes his style. Like 
Polidoro, he studied the ancients so much that he ac- 
quired a habit of thinking in their way, and seemed 
to know perfectly the actions and gestures they would 
use on every occasion. 

Poussin, in the latter part of his life, changed from 
his dry manner to one much softer and richer, where 
there is a greater union between the figures and 
ground, — as in the Seven Sacraments in the Duke of 
Orleans's collection; but neither these nor any of his 
other pictures in this manner, are at all comparable 
to many in this dry manner which we have in England. 


The favorite subjects of Poussin were ancient fables ; 
and no painter was ever better qualified to paint such 
subjects, not only from his being eminently skilled in 
the knowledge of the ceremonies, customs, and habits 
of the ancients, but from his being so well acquainted 
with the different characters which those who invented 
them gave to their allegorical figures. Though Rubens 
has shown great fancy in his Satyrs, Silenuses, and 
Fauns, yet they are not that distinct, separate class of 
beings which is carefully exhibited by the ancients, and 
by Poussin. Certainly, when such subjects of an- 
tiquity are represented, nothing in the picture ought 
to remind us of modern times. The mind is thrown 
back into antiquity, and nothing ought to be intro- 
duced that may tend to awaken it from the illusion. 

Poussin seemed to think that the style and the lan- 
guage in which such stories are told is not the worse 
for preserving some relish of the old way of paint- 
ing, which seemed to give a general uniformity to the 
whole, so that the mind was thrown back into an- 
tiquity not only by the subject, but the execution. 

If Poussin, in imitation of the ancients, represents 
Apollo driving his chariot out of the sea, by way of 
representing the sun rising, if he personifies lakes and 
rivers, it is nowise offensive in him, but seems per- 
fectly of a piece with the general air of the picture. 
On the contrary, if the figures which people his pic- 
tures had a modern air or countenance, if they ap- 
peared like our countrymen, if the draperies were like 
cloth or silk of our manufacture, if the landscape had 
the appearance of a modern view, how ridiculous 
would Apollo appear instead of the sun, — and an 


old man, or a nymph with an urn, to represent a river 
or a lake ! 

I cannot avoid mentioning here a circumstance in 
portrait-painting which may help to confirm what has 
been said. When a portrait is painted in the histori- 
cal style, as it is neither an exact minute representation 
of an individual, nor completely ideal, every circum- 
stance ought to correspond to this mixture. The 
simplicity of the antique air and attitude, however 
much to be admired, is ridiculous when joined to a 
figure in a modern dress. It is not to my purpose to 
enter into the question at present, whether this mixed 
style ought to be adopted or not ; yet if it is chosen, 
it is necessary it should be complete, and all of a 
piece; the difference of stuffs, for instance, which 
make the clothing, should be distinguished in the 
same degree as the head deviates from a general idea. 
Without this union, which I have so often recom- 
mended, a work can have no marked and determined 
character, which is the peculiar and constant evidence 
of genius. But when this is accomplished to a high 
degree it becomes in some sort a rival to that style 
which we have fixed as the highest. 

Thus I have given a sketch of the characters of 
Rubens and Salvator Rosa, as they appear to me 
to have the greatest uniformity of mind throughout 
their whole work. But we may add to these all 
artists who are at the head of a class, and have had a 
school of imitators, from Michael Angelo down to 
Wattcau. Upon the whole it appears that, setting 
aside the ornamental style, there are two different 
modes, either of which a student may adopt without 


degrading the dignity of his art. The object of the 
first is to combine the higher excellences and embel- 
lish them to the greatest advantage ; of the other, to 
carry one of these excellences to the highest degree. 
But those who possess neither must be classed with 
them who, as Shakspeare says, are " men of no 
mark or likelihood." 

I inculcate as frequently as I can your forming 
yourselves upon great principles and great models. 
Your time will be much misspent in every other pur- 
suit. Small excellences should be viewed, not stud- 
ied ; they ought to be viewed, because nothing ought 
to escape a painter's observation, but for no other 

There is another caution which I wish to give you. 
Be as select in those whom you endeavor to please 
as in those whom you endeavor to imitate. Without 
the love of fame you can never do anything excel- 
lent; but by an excessive and undistinguishing thirst 
after it you will come to have vulgar views ; you will 
degrade your style, and your taste will be entirely 
corrupted. It is certain that the lowest style will be 
the most popular, as it falls within the compass of 
ignorance itself; and the vulgar will always be pleased 
with what is natural, in the confined and misunder- 
stood sense of the word. 

One would wish that sjjch depravation of taste 
should be counteracted with that manly pride which 
actuated Euripides when he said to the Athenians 
who criticised his works, " I do not compose my 
works in order to be corrected by you, but to in- 
struct you." It is true, to have a right to speak thus, 


a man must be a Euripides. However, thus much 
may be allowed, that when an artist is sure that he is 
upon firm ground, supported by the authority and 
practice of his predecessors of the greatest reputa- 
tion, he may then assume the boldness and intre- 
pidity of genius; at any rate he must not be tempted 
out of the right path by any allurement of popular- 
ity, which always accompanies the lower styles of 

I mention this, because our exhibitions, while they 
produce such admirable effects by nourishing emu- 
lation, and calling out genius, have also a mischiev- 
ous tendency, by seducing the painter to an ambition 
of pleasing indiscriminately the mixed multitude of 
people who resort to them. 

A/as. Lucv Hiii'i/iiioe. 


Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distri- 
bution of the Frizes, December lo, 1774. 


When I have taken the liberty of addressing you on 
the course and order of your studies, I never pro- 
posed to enter into a minute detail of the art. This I 
have always left to the several professors, who pursue 
the end of our institution with the highest honor to 
themselves, and with the greatest advantage to the 

My purpose in the discourses I have held in the 
Academy has been to lay down certain general posi- 
tions which seem to me proper for the formation of a 
sound taste, — principles necessary to guard the {)upils 
against those errors into which the sanguine temper 
common to their time of life has a tendency to lead 
them, and which have rendered abortive the hopes 
of so many successions of promising young men in all 
parts of Europe. I wished also to intercept and 
suppress those prejudices which particularly prevail 
when the mechanism of painting is come to its per- 
fection ; and which, when they do prevail, are certain 


utterly to destroy the higher and more valuable parts 
of this literate and liberal profession. 

These two have been my principal purposes ; they 
are still as much my concern as ever; and if I repeat 
my own notions on the subject, you who know how 
fast mistake and prejudice, when neglected, gain 
ground upon truth and reason, will easily excuse me. 
I only attempt to set the same thing in the greatest 
variety of lights. 

The subject of this discourse will be imitation, as 
far as a painter is concerned in it. By imitation, I do 
not mean imitation in its largest sense, but simply the 
following of other masters, and the advantage to be 
drawn from the study of their works. 

Those who have undertaken to write on our art, 
and have represented it as a kind of inspiration, as a 
gift bestowed upon peculiar favorites at their birth, 
seem to insure a much more favorable disposition 
from their readers, and have a much more captivating 
and liberal air, than he who attempts to examine, 
coldly, whether there are any means by which this 
art may be acquired ; how the mind may be strength- 
ened and expanded, and what guides will show the 
way to eminence. 

It is very natural for those who are unacquainted 
with the cause of anything extraordinary to be aston- 
ished at the effect, and to consider it as a kind of 
magic. They who have never observed the grada- 
tion by which art is acquired, who see only what is 
the full result of long labor and application of an in- 
finite number and infinite variety of acts, are apt to 
conclude, from their entire inability to do the same 


at once, that it is not only inaccessible to themselves, 
but can be done by those only who have some gift of 
the nature of inspiration bestowed upon them. 

The travellers into the East tell us that when the 
ignorant inhabitants of those countries are asked con- 
cerning the ruins of statclx- edifices yet remaining 
among them, the melancholy monuments of their 
former grandeur and long-lost science, they always 
answer that they were built by magicians. The un- 
taught mind finds a vast gulf between its own powers 
and those works of complicated art which it is utterly 
unable to fathom ; and it supposes that such a void 
can be passed only by supernatural powers. 

And, as for artists themselves, it is by no means 
their interest to undeceive such judges, however con- 
scious they may be of the very natural means by 
which their extraordinary powers were acquired; 
though our art, being intrinsically imitative, rejects 
this idea of inspiration, more perhaps than any other. 

It is to avoid this plain confession of the truth, as 
it should seem, that this imitation of masters, indeed 
almost all imitation, which implies a more regular and 
progressive method of attaining the ends of painting, 
has ever been particularly inveighed against with 
great keenness, both by ancient and modern writers. 

To derive all from native power, to owe nothing to 
another, is the praise which men who do not much 
think on what they are saying, bestow sometimes 
upon others, and sometimes on themselves; and their 
imaginary dignit}' is naturally heightened by a super- 
cilious censure of the low', the barren, the grovelling, 
the servile imitator. It would be no wonder if a 



student, frightened by these terrific and disgraceful 
epithets, with which the poor imitators are so often 
loaded, should let fall his pencil in mere despair, — 
conscious as he must be how much he has been 
indebted to the labors of others, how little, how very 
little of his art was born with him, — and consider it as 
hopeless to set about acquiring by the imitation of 
any human master what he is taught to suppose is 
matter of inspiration from heaven. 

Some allowance must be made for what is said in 
the gayety of rhetoric. We cannot suppose that any 
one can really mean to exclude all imitation of others. 
A position so wild would scarce deserve a serious 
answer; for it is apparent, if we were forbid to make 
use of the advantages which our predecessors afford 
us, the art would be always to begin, and conse- 
quently remain always in its infant state; and it is a 
common observation that no art was ever invented 
and carried to perfection at the same time. 

But to bring us entirely to reason and sobriety, let 
it be observed, that a painter must not only be of 
necessity an imitator of the works of nature, which 
alone is sufficient to dispel this phantom of inspira- 
tion, but he must be as necessarily an imitator of the 
works of other painters. This appears more humili- 
ating, but is equally true; and no man can be an 
artist, whatever he may suppose, upon any other 

However, those who appear more moderate and 
reasonable allow that our study is to begin by imita- 
tion, but maintain that we should no longer use the 
thoughts of our predecessors when we are become 


able to think for ourselves. They hold that imitation 
is as hurtful to the more advanced student as it was 
advantageous to the beginner. 

For my own part, I confess, I am not only very 
much disposed to maintain the absolute necessity of 
imitation in the first stages of the art, but am of 
opinion that the study of other masters, which I here 
call imitation, maybe extended throughout our whole 
lives without any danger of the inconveniences with 
which it is charged, of enfeebling the mind, or pre- 
venting us from giving that original air which every 
work undoubtedly ought always to have. 

I am on the contrary persuaded that by imitation 
only, variety, and even originality of invention, is 
produced. I will go further; even genius, at least 
what generally is so called, is the child of imitation. 
But as this appears to be contrary to the general 
opinion, I must explain my position before I en- 
force it. 

Genius is supposed to be a power of producing 
excellences which are out of the reach of the rules of 
art, — a power which no precepts can teach, and which 
no industry can acquire. 

This opinion of the impossibility of acquiring those 
beauties which stamp the work with the character of 
genius supposes that it is something more fixed than 
in reality it is ; and that we always do, and ever did 
agree in opinion, with respect to what should be 
considered as the characteristic of genius. But the 
truth is that the degree of excellence which pro- 
claims genius is different in different times and dif- 
ferent places ; and what shows it to be so is that 


mankind have often changed their opinion upon this 

When the arts were in their infancy the power of 
merely drawing the hkeness of any object was con- 
sidered as one of its greatest efiforts. The common 
people, ignorant of the principles of art, talk the 
same language even to this day. But when it was 
found that every man could be taught to do this, and 
a great deal more, merely by the observance of cer- 
tain precepts, the name of genius then shifted its ap- 
plication, and was given only to him who added the 
peculiar character of the object he represented, — to 
him who had invention, expression, grace, or dignity; 
in short, those qualities, or excellences, the power of 
producing which could not then be taught by any 
known and promulgated rules. 

We are very sure that the beauty of form, the ex- 
pression of the passions, the art of composition, even 
the power of giving a general air of grandeur to a 
work, is at present very much under the dominion of 
rules. These excellences were, heretofore, considered 
merely as the effect of genius ; and justly, if genius is 
not taken for inspiration, but as the effect of close 
observation and experience. 

He who first made any of these observations, and 
digested them, so as to form an invariable principle 
for himself to work by, had that merit, but probably 
no one went very far at once ; and generally, the first 
who gave the hint, did not know how to pursue it 
steadily and methodically, — at least not in the begin- 
ning. He himself worked on it, and improved it; 
others worked more, and improved further ; until the 


secret was discovered, and the practice made as gen- 
eral as refined practice can be made. How many 
more principles may be fixed and ascertained we 
cannot tell ; but as criticism is likely to go hand in 
hand with the art which is its subject, we may venture 
to say that, as that art shall advance, its powers will 
be still more and more fixed by rules. 

But by whatever strides criticism may gain ground, 
we need be under no apprehension that invention 
will ever be annihilated or subdued, or intellectual 
energy be brought entirely within the restraint of 
written law. Genius will still have room enough to 
expatiate, and keep always at the same distance from 
narrow comprehension and mechanical performance. 

What we now call genius begins, not where rules 
abstractedly taken end, but where known vulgar and 
trite rules have no longer any place. It must of 
necessity be that even works of genius, like every 
other effect, as they must have their cause, must like- 
wise have their rules; it cannot be by chance that 
excellences are produced with any constancy or any 
certainty, for this is not the nature of chance; but 
the rules by which men of extraordinary parts, and 
such as are called men of genius, work, are cither 
such as they discover by their own peculiar observa- 
tions, or of such a nice texture as not easily to admit 
being expressed in words ; especially as artists are 
not very frequently skilful in that mode of communi- 
cating ideas. Unsubstantial, however, as these rules 
may seem, and difficult as it may be to convey them 
in writing, they are still seen and felt in the mind of 
the artist; and he works from them with as much 


certainty as if they were embodied, as I may say, 
upon paper, It is true, these refined principles can- 
not be always made palpable, like the more gross 
rules of art ; yet it does not follow but that the mind 
may be put in such a train that it shall perceive, by 
a kind of scientific sense, that propriety which words, 
particularly words of unpractised writers such as we 
are, can but very feebly suggest. 

Invention is one of the great marks of genius; but 
if we consult experience we shall find that it is by 
being conversant with the inventions of others that 
we learn to invent, as by reading the thoughts of 
others we learn to think. 

Whoever has so far formed his taste as to be able 
to relish and feel the beauties of the great masters 
has gone a great way in his study ; for, merely from 
a consciousness of this relish of the right, the mind 
swells with an inward pride, and is almost as power- 
fully affected as if it had itself produced what it ad- 
mires. Our hearts, frequently warmed in this manner 
by the contact of those whom we wish to resemble, 
will undoubtedly catch something of their way of 
tliinking; and we shall receive in our own bosoms 
some radiation at least of their fire and splendor. 
That disposition, which is so strong in children, still 
continues with us, of catching involuntarily the gen- 
eral air and manner of those with whom we are most 
conversant, — with this difference only, that a young 
mind is naturally pliable and imitative, but in a more 
advanced state it grows rigid, and must be warmed 
and softened before it will receive a deep impression. 

From these considerations, which a little of your 


own reflection will carry a great way further, it ap- 
pears of what great consequence it is that our minds 
should be habituated to the contemplation of excel- 
lence ; and that, far from being contented to make 
such habits the discipline of our youth only, we 
should, to the last moment of our lives, continue a 
settled intercourse with all the true examples of 
grandeur. Their inventions are not only the food of 
our infancy, but the substance which supplies the 
fullest maturity of our vigor. 

The mind is but a barren soil — a soil which is 
soon exhausted, and will produce no crop, or only 
one, unless it be continually fertilized and enriched 
with foreign matter. 

When we have had continually before us the great 
works of art to impregnate our minds with kindred 
ideas, we are then, and not till then, fit to produce 
something of the same species. We behold all about 
us with the eyes of those penetrating observers whose 
works we contemplate; and our minds, accustomed to 
think the thoughts of the noblest and brightest intel- 
lects, are prepared for the discovery and selection of 
all that is great and noble in nature. The greatest 
natural genius cannot subsist on its own stock ; he 
who resolves never to ransack any mind but his own, 
will be soon reduced from mere barrenness to the 
poorest of all imitations ; he will be obliged to imi- 
tate himself, and to repeat what he has before often 
repeated. When we know the subject designed by 
such men, it will never be difficult to guess what kind 
of work is to be produced. 

It is vain for painters or poets to endeavor to in- 


vent without materials on which the mind may work, 
and from which invention must originate. Nothing 
can come of nothing. 

Homer is supposed to be possessed of all the learn- 
ing of his time; and we are certain that Michael 
Angelo and Raphael were equally possessed of all 
the knowledge in the art which had been discovered 
in the works of their predecessors.^ 

A mind enriched by an assemblage of all the treas- 
ures of ancient and modern art will be more elevated 
and fruitful in resources, in proportion to the number 
of ideas which have been carefully collected and 
thoroughly digested. There can be no doubt but 
that he who has the most materials has the greatest 
means of invention ; and if he has not the power of 
using them, it must proceed from a feebleness of 
intellect, or from the confused manner in which those 
collections have been laid up in his mind. 

The addition of other men's judgment is so far 
from weakening our own, as is the opinion of many, 
that it will fashion and consolidate those ideas of 
excellence which lay in embryo — feeble, ill-shaped, 
and confused — but which are finished and put in 
order by the authority and practice of those whose 
works may be said to have been consecrated by hav- 
ing stood the test of ages. 

The mind, or genius, has been compared to a spark 
of fire, which is smothered by a heap of fuel, and 

1 Michael Angelo, in his old age, said of Raphael that industrv, 
not genius, was the cause of his success ; certainly, an intense power 
of assimilation, of learning all things from all men, furthered incal- 
culably his natural gifts. 


prevented from blazing into a flame. This simile, 
which is made use of by the younger Pliny, may be 
easily mistaken for argument or proof. But there is 
is no danger of the mind being overburdened with 
knowledge, or the genius extinguished by any addi- 
tion of images; on the contrary, these acquisitions 
may as well, perhaps better, be compared, if compari- 
sons signified anything in reasoning, to the supply of 
living embers, which will contribute to strengthen the 
spark, that without the association of more fuel would 
have died away. The truth is, he whose feebleness 
is such as to make other men's thoughts an incum- 
brance to him, can have no very great strength of 
mind or genius of his own to be destroyed; so that 
not much harm will be done at worst. 

We may oppose to Pliny the greater authority of 
Cicero, who is continually enforcing the necessity of 
this method of study. In his dialogue on oratory, he 
makes Crassus say that one of the first and most 
important precepts is to choose a proper model for 
our imitation: Hoc sit prinnivi in prceccptis incis, ut 
dc monstrcnius qncin iniitciiiur. 

When I speak of the habitual imitation and con- 
tinued study of masters, it is not to be understood 
that I advise any endeavor to copy the exact peculiar 
color and complexion of another man's mind ; the 
success of such an attempt must always be like his 
who imitates exactly the air, manner, and gestures of 
him whom he admires. His model may be excellent, 
but the copy will be ridiculous ; this ridicule does not 
arise from his having imitated, but from his not hav- 
ing chosen the right mode of imitation. 


It is a necessary and warrantable pride to disdain 
to walk servilely behind any individual, however ele- 
vated his rank. The true and liberal ground of imi- 
tation is an open field, where though he who precedes 
has had the advantage of starting before you, you 
may always propose to overtake him; it is enough, 
however to pursue his course; you need not tread i.i 
his footsteps, and you certainly have a right to out- 
strip him if you can. 

Nor, while I recommend studying the art from 
artists, can I be supposed to mean that nature is to 
be neglected ; I take this study in aid, and not in 
exclusion of the other. Nature is and must be the 
fountain which alone is inexhaustible, and from which 
all excellences must originally flow. 

The great use of studying, our predecessors is, to 
open the mind, to shorten our labor, and to give us 
the result of the selection made by those great minds 
of what is grand or beautiful in nature; her rich 
stores are all spread out before us; but it is an art, 
and no easy art, to know how or what to choose, and 
how to attain and secure the object of our choice. 
Thus, the highest beauty of form must be taken from 
nature ; but it is an art of long deduction and great 
experience to know how to find it. We must not 
content ourselves with merely admiring and relishing; 
we must enter into the principles on which the work 
is wrought; these do not swim on the superficies, and 
consequently are not open to superficial observers. 

Art in its perfection is not ostentatious; it lies hid 
and works its effect, itself unseen. It is the proper 
study and labor of an artist to uncover and find out 


the latent cause of conspicuous beauties, and from 
thence form principles of his owr conduct. Such an 
examination is a continual exertion of the mind ; as 
great, perhaps, as that of the artist whose works he is 
thus studying. 

The sagacious imitator does not content himself 
with merely remarking what distinguishes the differ- 
ent manner or genius of each master ; he enters nito 
the contrivance in the composition, how the masses 
of lights are disposed, the means by which the effect 
is produced, how artfully some parts are lost in the 
ground, others boldly relieved, and how all these are 
mutually altered and interchanged according to the 
reason and scheme of the work. He admires not the 
harmony of coloring alone, but examines by what 
artifice one color is a foil to its neighbor. He looks 
close into the tints, examines of what colors they are 
composed, till he has formed clear and distinct ideas, 
and has learned to see in what harmony and good 
coloring consists. What is learned in this manner 
from the works of others becomes really our own, 
sinks deep, and is never forgotten ; nay, it is by 
seizing on this clue that we proceed forward, and get 
further and further in enlarging the principles and 
improving the practice of our art. 

There can be no doubt but the art is better learned 
from the works themselves than from the precepts 
which are formed upon those works; but if it is diffi- 
cult to choose proper models for imitation, it requires 
no less circumspection to separate and distinguish 
what in those models we ought to imitate. 

I cannot avoid mentioning here, though it is not my 


intention at present to enter into the art and method 
of study, an error which students are too apt to fall 
into. He that is forming himself must look with 
great caution and wariness on those peculiarities, 
or prominent parts, which at first force themselves 
upon view, and are the marks, or what is commonly 
called the manner, by which that individual artist is 

Peculiar marks I hold to be, generally, if not al- 
ways, defects, — however difficult it may be wholly 
to escape them. 

Peculiarities in the works of art are like those in 
the human figure ; it is by them that we are cogniz- 
able, and distinguished one from another, but they 
are always so many blemishes ; which, however, both 
in real life and in painting, cease to appear deformities 
to those who have them continually before their eyes. 
In the works of art, even the most enlightened mind, 
when warmed by beauties of the highest kind, will by 
degrees find a repugnance within him to acknowledge 
any defects; nay, his enthusiasm will carry him so 
far as to transform them into beauties and objects of 

It must be acknowledged that a peculiarity of style, 
either from its novelty or by seeming to proceed 
from a peculiar turn of mind, often escapes blame; 
on the contrary, it is sometimes striking and pleasing ; 
but this it is a vain labor to endeavor to imitate, be- 
cause novelty and peculiarity being its only merit, 
w^hen it ceases to be new it ceases to have value. 

A manner, therefore, being a defect, and every 
painter, however excellent, having a manner, it seems 


to follow that all kinds of faults, as well as beauties, 
may be learned under the sanction of the greatest au- 
thorities. Even the great name of Michael Angelo 
may be used to keep in countenance a deficiency, or 
rather neglect, of coloring, and every other orna- 
mental part of the art. If the young student is dry 
and hard, Poussin is the same. If his work has a 
careless and unfinished air, he has most of the Vene- 
tian school to support him. If he makes no selec- 
tion of objects, but takes individual nature just as 
he finds it, he is like Rembrandt. If he is incor- 
rect in the proportions of his figures, Correggio was 
likewise incorrect. If his colors are not blended 
and united, Rubens was equally crude. In short, 
there is no defect that may not be excused, if it is 
a sufficient excuse that it can be imputed to con- 
siderable artists; but it must be remembered that 
it was not by these defects they acquired their re- 
putation ; they have a right to our pardon, but not 
to our admiration. 

However, to imitate peculiarities, or mistake de- 
fects for beauties, that man will be most liable who 
confines his imitation to one favorite master ; and even 
though he chooses the best, and is capable of distin- 
guishing the real excellences of his model, it is not by 
such narrow practice that a genius or mastery in the 
art is acquired. A man is as little likely to form a true 
idea of the perfection of the art by stud\'ing a single 
artist, as he would be to produce a perfectly beauti- 
ful figure by an exact imitation of any individual 
living model. And as the painter, by bringing to- 
gether in one piece those beauties which arc dispersed 


among a great variety of individuals, produces a 
figure more beautiful than can be found in nature, so 
that artist who can unite in himself the excellences 
of the various great painters, will approach nearer to 
perfection than any one of his masters. He who 
confines himself to the imitation of an individual, 
as he never proposes to surpass, so he is not likely 
to equal, the object of his imitation. He professes 
only to follow ; and he that follows must necessarily 
be behind. 

We should imitate the conduct of the great artists 
in the course of their studies, as well as the works 
which they produced when they were perfectly 
formed. Raphael began by imitating implicitly the 
manner of Pietro Perugino, under whom he studied; 
hence his first works are scarce to be distinguished 
from his master's ; but soon forming higher and more 
extensive views, he imitated the grand outline of 
Michael Angelo ; he learned the manner of using 
colors from the works of Leonardo da Vinci, and Fra 
Bartolomeo ; to all this he added the contemplation 
of all the remains of antiquity that were within his 
reach, and employed others to draw for him what 
was in Greece and distant places. And it is from his 
having taken so many models that he became him- 
self a model for all succeeding painters; always imi- 
tating, and always original. 

If your ambition, therefore, be to equal Raphael, 
you must do as Raphael did. take many models, and 
not even him for your guide alone, to the exclusion 
of others. And yet the number is infinite of those 
who seem, if one may judge by their style, to have 


seen no other works but those of their master, or of 
some favorite, wliose maiincr is their first wish, and 
their last. 

I will mention a few that occur to me of this nar- 
row, confined, illiberal, unscientific, and servile kipd 
of imitators. Guido was thus meanly copied by 
Klizabetta, Sirani, and Simone Cantarini ; Poussin, by 
Verdier and Cheron ; Parmegiano by Jeronimo Maz- 
zuoli. Paolo Veronese and lacomo Bassan had for 
their imitators their brothers and sons. Pietro da 
Cortona was followed by Giro Ferri, and Romanelli ; 
Rubens, by Jacques Jordaens and Diepenbeke ; Guer- 
cino, by his own family, the Gennari. Carlo Maratti 
was imitated by Giuseppe Chiari, and Pietro de Pietri ; 
and Rembrandt, by Bramer, Eeckhout, and Flink. 
All these, to whom may be added a much longer list 
of painters, whose works among the ignorant pass for 
those of their masters, are justly to be censured for 
barrenness and servility. 

To oppose to this list a few that have adopted a 
more liberal style of imitation, — Pellegrino Tibaldi, 
Rosso, and Primaticcio did not coldly imitate, but 
caught something of the fire that animates the works 
of Michael Angelo. The Caraccis formed their style 
from Pellegrino Tibaldi, Correggio, and the Venetian 
school. Domenichino, Guido, Lanfranco, Albano, 
Guercino, Cax'idone, Schidone, Tiarini, though it is 
sufficiently apparent that they came from the school 
of the Caraccis. have yet the appearance of men who 
extended their views beyond the model that lay be- 
fore them, and have shown that they had opinions of 
their own, and thought for themselves after they had 


made themselves masters of the general principles of 
their schools. 

Le Suer's first manner resembles very much that 
of his master Vouet; but as he soon excelled him, so 
he differed from him in every part of the art. Carlo 
Maratti succeeded better than those I have first 
named, and, I think, owes his superiority to the ex- 
tension of his views ; beside his master Andrea 
Sacchi, he imitated Raphael, Guido, and the Caraccis. 
It is true, there is nothing very captivating in Carlo 
Maratti ; but this proceeded from a want which cannot 
be completely supplied ; that is, want of strength of 
parts. In this certainly men are not equal; and a 
man can bring home wares only in proportion to the 
capital with which he goes to market. Carlo, by 
diligence, made the most of what he had ; but there 
was undoubtedly a heaviness about him, which ex- 
tended itself, uniformly, to his invention, expression, 
his drawing, coloring, and the general effect of his 
pictures. The truth is, he never equalled any of 
his patterns in any one thing, and he added little 
of his own. 

But we must not rest contented even in this general 
study of the moderns ; we must trace back the art to 
its fountain-head, — to that source from whence they 
drew their principal excellences, the monuments of 
pure antiquity. All the inventions and thoughts of 
the ancients, whether conveyed to us in statues, bas- 
reliefs, intaglios, cameos, or coins, are to be sought 
after and carefully studied ; the genius that hovers 
over these venerable relics may be called the father 
of modern art. 


From the remains of the works of the ancients the 
modern arts were revived, and it is by their means 
that they must be restored a second time. However 
it may mortify our vanity, we must be forced to allow 
them our masters; and we may venture to prophesy 
that when they shall cease to be studied, arts will 
no longer flourish, and we shall again relapse into 

The fire of the artist's own genius, operating upon 
these materials which have been thus diligently col- 
lected, will enable him to make new combinations, 
perhaps superior to what had ever before been in the 
possession of the art; as in the mixture of the variety 
of metals, which are said to have been melted and 
run together at the burning of Corinth, a new and 
till then unknown metal was produced, equal in value 
to any of those that had contributed to its composi- 
tion. And though a curious refiner should come 
with his crucibles, analyse and separate its various 
component parts, yet Corinthian brass would still 
hold its rank among the most beautiful and valuable 
of metals. 

We have hitherto considered the advantages of 
imitation as it tends to form the taste, and as a prac- 
tice by which a spark of that genius may be caught 
which illumines those noble works that ought always 
to be present to our thoughts. 

We come now to speak of another kind of imita- 
tion, — the borrowing a particular thought, an action, 
attitude, or figure, and transplanting it into your own 
work. This will either come under the charge of 
plagiarism, or be warrantable, and deserve commen- 


dation, according to the address with which it is per- 
formed.^ There is some difference, Hkewise, whether 
it is upon the ancients or moderns that these depreda- 
tions are made. It is generally allowed, that no man 
need be ashamed of copying the ancients ; their 
works are considered as a magazine of common prop- 
erty, always open to the public, whence every man 
has a right to take what materials he pleases ; and if 
he has the art of using them they are supposed to 
become to all intents and purposes his own property. 
The collection of the thoughts of the ancients which 
Raphael made with so much trouble is a proof of his 
opinion on this subject. Such collections may be 
made with much more ease by means of an art scarce 
known in his time; I mean that of engraving; by 
which, at an easy rate, every man may now avail him- 
self of the inventions of antiquity. 

It must be acknowledged that the works of the 
moderns are more the property of their authors. He 
who borrows an idea from an ancient, or even from a 
modern artist not his contemporary, and so accom- 
modates it to his own work that it makes a part of it, 
with no seam or joining appearing, can hardly be 

1 The principles advanced by Sir Joshua in this discourse were con- 
sistently adhered to in his practice. An able critic, Mr. Thomas 
Phillips, said: "The numberless instances in which he is known to 
have borrowed thoughts, both in actions of figures, and effects of 
color, seem to impeach his power of invention. But surely it could 
not proceed from want of a sufficient portion of that high and necessary 
quality that he who produced so many novel combinations adopted 
that shorthand path to composition . . . These (his best portraits) 
are composed in a taste far surpassing all that had ever been done by 
his predecessors ; uniting the grandeur, simplicity, and fulness of 
Titian, and the grace and nature of Van Dyck, with the artful and 
attractive effects of Rembrandt." 


charged with plagiarism ; poets practise this kind of 
borrowing without reserve. But an artist should not 
be contented with this only; he should enter into a 
competition with his original, and endeavor to im- 
prove what he is appropriating to his own work. 
Such imitation is so far from having anything in it of 
the servility of plagiarism that it is a perpetual exer- 
cise of the mind, a continual invention. Borrowing 
or stealing with such art and caution will have a right 
to the same lenity as was used by the Lacedaemonians, 
who did not punish theft, but the want of artifice to 
conceal it. 

In order to encourage you to imitation, to the ut- 
most extent, let me add, that very finished artists in 
the inferior branches of the art will contribute to 
furnish the mind and give hints, of which a skilful 
painter, who is sensible of what he wants, and is in no 
danger of being infected by the contact of vicious 
models, will know how to avail himself He will 
pick up from dunghills what, by a nice chemistry, 
passing through his own mind, shall be converted 
into pure gold ; and under the rudeness of Gothic 
essays he will find original, rational, and even sub- 
lime inventions. 

The works of Albert Diirer, Lucas Van Leyden, 
the numerous inventions of Tobias Stimmer, and Jost 
Ammon, afford a rich mass of genuine materials, 
which, wrought up, and polished to elegance, will add 
copiousness to what, perhaps, without such aid, could 
have inspired only to justness and propriety. 

In the luxuriant style of Paul Veronese, in the ca- 
pricious compositions of Tintoret, he will find some- 


thing that will assist his invention, and give points 
from which his own imagination shall rise and take 
flight, when the subject which he treats will with pro- 
priety admit of splendid effects. 

In every school, whether Venetian, French, or 
Dutch, he will find either ingenious compositions, 
extraordinary effects, some peculiar expressions, or 
some mechanical excellence, well worthy of his atten- 
tion, and, in some measure, of his imitation. Even 
in the lower class of the French painters, great beau- 
ties are often found, united with great defects. 
Though Coypel wanted a simplicity of taste, and 
mistook a presumptuous and assuming air for what 
is grand and majestic, yet he frequently has good 
sense and judgment in his manner of telling his 
stories, great skill in his compositions, and is not 
without a considerable power of expressing the pas- 
sions. The modern affectation of grace in his works, 
as well as in those of Bosch and Watteau, may be 
said to be separated by a very thin partition 
from the more simple and pure grace of Correggio 
and Parmegiano. 

Among the Dutch painters, the correct, firm, and 
determined pencil, which was employed by Bam- 
boccio and Jean Miel, on vulgar and mean subjects, 
might, without any change, be employed on the 
highest; to which, indeed, it seems more properly to 
belong. The greatest style, if that style is confined 
to small figures, such as Poussin generally painted, 
would receive an additional grace by the elegance 
and precision of pencil so admirable in the works of 
Teniers ; and though the school to which he belonged 


more particularly excelled in the mechanism of paint- 
ing, yet it produced many who have shown great 
abilities in expressing what must be ranked above 
mechanical excellences. In the works of Franz Hals, 
the portrait-painter may observe the composition 
of a face, the features well put together, as the 
painters express it; from whence proceeds that 
strong-marked character of individual nature which 
is so remarkable in his portraits, and is not found 
in an equal degree in any other painter. If he 
had joined to this most difficult part of the art a pa- 
tience in finishing what he had so correctly planned, 
he might justly have claimed the place which Van 
Dyck, all things considered, so justly holds as the 
first of portrait-painters. 

Others of the same school have shown great power 
in expressing the character and passions of those 
vulgar people which were the subjects of their study 
and attention. Among those, Jan Steen seems to be 
one of the most diligent and accurate observers of 
what passed in those scenes which he frequented, and 
which were to him an academy. I can easily imagine 
that if this extraordinary man had had the good for- 
tune to have been born in Italy, instead of Holland, 
had he lived in Rome, instead of Leyden, and been 
blessed with Michael Angelo and Raphael for his 
masters, instead of Brouwcr and Van Goyen, the 
same sagacity and penetration which distinguished so 
accurately the different characters and expression in 
his vulgar figures would, when exerted in the selec- 
tion and imitation of what was great and elevated in 
nature, have been equally successful ; and he now 


would have ranged with the great pillars and sup- 
porters of our art.^ 

Men who, although thus bound down by the almost 
invincible powers of early habits, have still exerted 
extraordinary abilities within their narrow and con- 
fined circle, and have, from the natural vigor of their 
mind, given a very interesting expression, and great 
force and energy to their works, though they cannot 
be recommended to be exactly imitated, may yet in- 
vite an artist to endeavor to transfer, by a kind of 
parody, their excellences to his own performances. 
Whoever has acquired the power of making this 
use of the Flemish, Venetian, and French schools 
is a real genius, and has sources of knowledge open 
to him which were wanting to the great artists who 
lived in the great age of painting. 

To find excellences, however dispersed, to discover 
beauties, however concealed by the multitude of de- 
fects with which they are surrounded, can be the 
work only of him who, having a mind always alive to 
his art, has extended his views to all ages and to all 
schools, and has acquired from that comprehensive 
mass which he has thus gathered to himself a well- 
digested and perfect idea of his art, to which every- 
thing is referred. Like a sovereign judge and arbiter 
of art, he is possessed of that presiding power which 

1 In the house I lodged in at Leyden there once lived Jan Steen, 
the great Jan Steen, whom I hold to be as great as Raphael. Even 
as a sacred painter Jan was as great, and that will be clearly seen 
when the religion of sorrow has passed away, and the religion of joy 
has torn off the thick veil that covers the rose-bushes of the earth, 
and the nightingales dare at last to sing joyously out their long- 
concealed raptures. But no nightingale will ever sing so joyously as 
Jan Steen painted. — Heinrich Heine. 


separates and attracts every excellence from every 
school ; selects both from what is great, and what is 
little; brings home knowledge from the East and 
from the West, — making the universe tributary 
towards furnishing his mind, and enriching his works 
with originality and variety of inventions. 

Thus I have ventured to give my opinion of what 
appears to me the true and only method by which an 
artist makes himself master of his profession; which 
I hold ought to be one continued course of imitation, 
that is not to cease but with his life. 

Those who, either from their own engagements and 
hurry of business, or from indolence, or from conceit 
and vanity, have neglected looking out of themselves, 
as far as my experience and observation reaches, have 
from that time not only ceased to advance, and im- 
prove in their performances, but have gone back- 
ward. They may be compared to men who have 
lived upon their principal till they are reduced to 
beggary, and left without resources. 

I can recommend nothing better, therefore, than 
that you endeavor to infuse into your works what you 
learn from the contemplation of the works of others. 
To recommend this has the appearance of needless 
and superfluous advice; but it has fallen within my 
own knowledge that artists, though they were not 
wanting in a sincere love for their art, though they 
had great pleasure in seeing good pictures, and were 
well skilled to distinguish what was excellent or de- 
fective in them, yet have gone on in their own man- 
ner, without any endeavor to give a little of those 
beauties which they admired in others to their own 


works. It is difficult to conceive how the present 
Italian painters, who live in the midst of the treasures 
of art, should be contented with their own style. 
They proceed in their commonplace inventions, and 
never think it worth while to visit the works of those 
great artists with which they are surrounded. 

I remember, several years ago, to have conversed 
at Rome with an artist of great fame throughout 
Europe ; he was not without a considerable degree of 
abilities, but those abilities were by no means equal 
to his own opinion of them. From the reputation he 
had acquired, he too fondly concluded that he stood 
in the same rank when compared with his prede- 
cessors as he held with regard to his miserable 
contemporary rivals. In conversation about some 
particulars of the works of Raphael, he seemed to 
have, or to affect to have, a very obscure memory of 
them. He told me that he had not set his foot in 
the Vatican for fifteen years together; that he had 
been in treaty to copy a capital picture of Raphael, 
but that the business had gone off; however, if the 
agreement had held, his copy would have greatly 
exceeded the original. The merit of this artist, how- 
ever great we may suppose it, I am sure would have 
been far greater, and his presumption would have 
been far less, if he had visited the Vatican, as in 
reason he ought to have done, at least once every 
month of his life. 

I address myself, gentlemen, to you who have made 
some progress in the art, and are to be, for the future, 
under the guidance of your own judgment and discre- 
tion. I consider you as arrived to that period when 


you have a right to think for yourselves, and to pre- 
sume that every man is falhble ; to study the masters 
with a suspicion that great men are not ahvays ex- 
empt from great faults; to criticise, compare, and 
rank their works in your own estimation, as they ap- 
proach to, or recede from, that standard of perfection 
which you have formed in your own minds, but which 
those masters themselves, it must be remembered, 
have taught you to make, and which you will cease 
to make with correctness when you cease to study 
them. It is their excellences which have taught you 
their defects. 

I would wish you to forget where you are, and who 
it is that speaks to you. I only direct you to higher 
models and better advisers. We can teach you here 
but very little ; you are henceforth to be your own 
teachers. Do this justice, however, to the English 
Academy, — to bear in mind that in this place you 
contracted no narrow habits, no false ideas, nothing 
that could lead you to the imitation of any living mas- 
ter who may be the fashionable darling of the day. 
As you have not been taught to flatter us, do not 
learn to flatter yourselves. We have endeavored to 
lead you to the admiration of nothing but what is 
truly admirable. If you choose inferior patterns, or 
if you make your own former works your patterns 
for your latter, it is your own fault. 

The purport of this discourse, and, indeed, of most 
of my other discourses, is to caution you against that 
false opinion, but too prevalent among artists, of the 
imaginary powers of native genius, and its sufficiency 
in great works. This opinion, according to the tem- 


per of mind it meets with, almost always produces 
either a vain confidence or a sluggish despair, — both 
equally fatal to all proficiency. 

Study, therefore, the great works of the great mas- 
ters forever. Study, as nearly as you can, in the 
order, in the manner, and on the principles, on which 
they studied. Study nature attentively, but always 
with those masters in your company; consider them 
as models which you are to imitate, and at the same 
time as rivals with whom you are to contend. 

Liilv Louisii Miiiiuers. 
Conn/ ess Dvsnrt. 


Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy^ on the Distri- 
bution (f the Prizes, December lo, 1776. 


It has been my uniform endeavor, since I first ad- 
dressed you from this place, to impress }'ou strongly 
with one ruling idea. I wished you to be persuaded 
that success in your art depends almost entirely on 
your own industry; but the industry which I princi- 
pally recommended is not the industry of the hands, 
but of the mind. 

As our art is not a div'ine gift, so neither is it a 
mechanical trade. Its foundations are laid in solid 
science ; and practice, though essential to perfection, 
can never attain that to which it aims, unless it works 
under the direction of principle. 

Some writers upon art carry this point too far, and 
suppose that such a body of universal and profound 
learning is requisite that the very enumeration of its 
kinds is enough to frighten a beginner, Vitruvius, 
after going through the many accomplishments of 
nature, and the many acquirements of learning neces- 
sary to an architect, proceeds with great gravity to 


assert that he ought to be well skilled in the civil law, 
that he may not be cheated in the title of the ground 
he builds on. But without such exaggeration, we may 
go so far as to assert that a painter stands in need ot 
more knowledge than is to be picked off his pallet, or 
collected by looking on his model, whether it be in 
hfe or in picture. He can never be a great artist who 
is grossly illiterate. 

Every man whose business is description ought to 
be tolerably conversant with the poets, in some lan- 
guage or other, — that he may imbibe a poetical spirit, 
and enlarge his stock of ideas. He ought to acquire 
a habit of comparing and digesting his notions. He 
ought not to be wholly unacquainted with that part 
of philosophy which gives an insight into human na- 
ture, and relates to the manners, characters, passions, 
and affections. He ought to know something con- 
cerning the mind as well as a great deal concerning 
the body of man. For this purpose it is not neces- 
sary that he should go into such a compass of read- 
ing as must, by distracting his attention, disqualify 
him for the practical part of his profession, and make 
him sink the performer in the critic. Reading, if it 
can be made the favorite recreation of his leisure 
hours, will improve and enlarge his mind, without re- 
tarding his actual industry. What such partial and 
desultory reading cannot afford may be supplied by 
the conversation of learned and ingenious men, which 
is the best of all substitutes for those who have not 
the means or opportunities of deep study. There are 
many such men in this age; and they will be pleased 
with communicating their ideas to artists, when they 


see them curious and docile, if they are treated uith 
that respect and deference which is so justly their 
due. Into such society, youn^ artists, if they make 
it the point of their ambition, will, by degrees, be ad- 
mitted. There, without formal teaching, they will in- 
sensibly come to feel and reason like those they live 
with, and find a rational and systematic taste imper- 
ceptibly formed in their minds, which they will know 
how to reduce to a standard by applying general 
truth to their own purposes, better, perhaps, than 
those to whom they owed the original sentiment. 

Of these studies, and this conversation, the desire 
and legitimate offspring is a power of distinguishing 
right from wrong; which power, applied to works of 
art, is denominated " taste." ^ Let me, then, with- 
out further introduction, enter upon an examination 
whether taste be so far beyond our reach as to be un- 
attainable by care ; or be so very vague and capri- 
cious, that no care ought to be employed about it. 

It has been the fate of arts to be enveloped in mys- 
terious and incomprehensible language, as if it was 
thought necessary that even the terms should corres- 
pond to the idea entertained of the instability and un- 
certainty of the rules which they expressed. 

To speak of genius and taste as in an}' way con- 
nected with reason or common-sense would be, in 
the opinion of some towering talkers, to speak like a 
man who possessed neither ; who had never felt that 

^ Genius is the power of producing excellence ; taste is the power 
of perceiving the e.\cellence thus produced in its several sorts and de- 
grees, with all their force, refinement, distinctions, and connections. 
— HAZLlxr, Essay on Taste. 


enthusiasm, or, to use their own inflated language, 
was never warmed by that Promethean fire, which ani- 
mates the canvas and vivifies the marble. 

If, in order to be intelligible, I appear to degrade 
art by bringing her down from the visionary situation 
in the clouds, it is only to give her a more solid man- 
sion upon the earth. It is necessary that at some 
time or other we should see things as they really are, 
and not impose on ourselves by that false magnitude 
with which objects appear when viewed indistinctly 
as through a mist. 

We will allow a poet to express his meaning, when 
his meaning is not well known to himself, with a cer- 
tain degree of obscurity, as it is one sort of the sub- 
lime. But when, in plain prose, we gravely talk of 
courting the Muse in shady bowers; waiting the call 
and inspiration of Genius, finding out where he in- 
habits, and where he is to be invoked with the great- 
est success ; of attending to times and seasons when 
the imagination shoots with the greatest vigor, 
whether at the summer solstice or the vernal equinox; 
sagaciously observing how much the wild freedom 
and liberty of imagination is cramped by attention to 
established rules; and how this same imagination 
begins to grow dim in advanced age, smothered and 
deadened by too much judgment; when we talk such 
language, or entertain such sentiments as these, we 
generally rest contented with mere words, or at best 
entertain notions not only groundless but pernicious. 

If all this means, what it is very possible was orig- 
inally intended only to be meant, that in order to 
cultivate an art a man secludes himself from the com- 


merce of the world and retires into the country at 
particular seasons ; or that at one time of the year his 
body is in better health, and consequently his mind 
fitter for the business of hard thinking than at another 
time ; or that the mind may be fatigued and grow 
confused by long and unremitted application; this I 
can understand. I can likewise believ^e that a man, 
eminent when young for possessing poetical imagina- 
tion, may, from having taken another road, so neg- 
lect its cultivation as to show less of its powders in his 
later life. But I am persuaded that scarce a poet is 
to be found, from Homer down to Dryden, who pre- 
served a sound mind in a sound body, and continued 
practising his profession to the very last, whose later 
works are not as replete with the fire of imagination, 
as those which were produced in his more youthful 

To understand literally these metaphors, or ideas 
expressed in poetical language, seems to be equally 
absurd as to conclude that because painters some- 
times represent poets writing from the dictates of a 
little winged boy or genius, this same genius did 
really inform him in ai whisper what he was to write ; 
and that he is himself but a mere machine, uncon- 
scious of the operations of his own mind. 

Opinions generally received and floating in the 
world, whether true or false, we naturally adopt and 
make our own; they may be considered as a kind of 
inheritance to which we succeed and are tenants for 
life, and which we leave to our posterity very nearly 
in the condition in which we received it, it not being 
much in any one man's power either to impair or im- 


prove it. The greatest part of these opinions, like 
current coin in its circulation, we are used to take 
without weighing or examining ; but by this inevitable 
inattention many adulterated pieces are received, 
which, when we seriously estimate our wealth, we 
must throw away. So the collector of popular opin- 
ions, when he embodies his knowledge, and forms a 
system, must separate those which are true from those 
which are only plausible. But it becomes more pe- 
culiarly a duty to the professors of art not to let any 
opinions relating to that art pass unexamined. The 
caution and circumspection required in such examin- 
ation we shall presently have an opportunity of 

Genius and taste, in their common acceptation^ ap- 
pear to be very nearly related ; the difference lies 
only in this, that genius has superadded to it a habit 
or power of execution ; or we may say that taste, 
when this power is added, changes its name, and is 
called genius. They both, in the popular opinion, 
pretend to an entire exemption from the restraint of 
rules. It is supposed that their powers are intuitive; 
that under the name of genius great works are pro- 
duced, and under the name of taste an exact judg- 
ment is given, without our knowing why, and without 
our being under the least obligation to reason, pre- 
cept, or experience. 

One can scarce state these opinions without expos- 
ing their absurdity; yet they are constantly in the 
mouths of men, and particularly of artists. They 
who have thought seriously on this subject do not 
carry the point so far; yet I am persuaded that, even 


among those few who may be called thinkers, the 
prevalent opinion allows less than it ought to the 
powers of reason, and considers the principles of 
taste, which give all their authority to the rules of 
art, as more fluctuating, and as having less solid 
foundations, than we shall find upon examination 
they really have. 

The common saying that " tastes are not to be dis- 
puted " owes its influence and its general reception 
to the same error which leads us to imagine this 
faculty of too high an original to submit to the au- 
thority of an earthly tribunal. It likewise corresponds 
with the notions of those who consider it as a mere 
phantom of the imagination, so devoid of substance 
as to elude all criticism. 

We often appear to differ in sentiments from each 
other, merely from the inaccuracy of terms, as we are 
not obliged to speak always with critical exactness. 
Something of this too may arise from want of words 
in the language in which we speak to express the 
more nice discrimination which a deep investigation 
discovers. A great deal, however, of this difference 
vanishes when each opinion is tolerably explained 
and understood by constancy and precision in the use 
of terms. 

We apply the term " taste " to that act of the mind 
by which we like or dislike, whatever be the subject. 
Our judgment upon an airy nothing, a fancy which 
has no foundation, is called by the same name which 
we give to our determination concerning those truths 
which refer to the most general and most unalterable 
principles of human nature, — to the works which are 



only to be produced by the greatest effort of the 
human understanding. However inconvenient this 
may be, we are obliged to take words as we find 
them ; all we can do is to distinguish the things to 
which they are applied. 

We may let pass those things which are at once 
subjects of taste and sense, and which, having as 
much certainty as the senses themselves, give no 
occasion to inquiry or dispute. The natural appetite 
or taste of the human mind is for truth; whether that 
truth results from the real agreement or equality of 
original ideas among themselves, from the agree- 
ment of the representation of any object with the 
thing represented, or from the correspondence of 
the several parts of any arrangement with each other. 
It is the very same taste which relishes a demonstra- 
tion in geometry, that is pleased with the resemblance 
of a picture to an original and touched with the har- 
mony of music. 

All these have unalterable and fixed foundations in 
nature, and are therefore equally investigated by 
reason, and known by study, — some with more, some 
with less clearness, but all exactly in the same way. 
A picture that is unlike is false. Disproportionate 
ordonnance of parts is not right; because it cannot 
be true, until it ceases to be a contradiction to assert 
that the parts have no relation to the whole. Color- 
ing is true, when it is naturally adapted to the eye, 
from brightness, from softness, from harmony, from 
resemblance; because these agree with their object, 
nature, and therefore are true, — as true as mathemati- 
cal demonstration, but known to be true only to 
those who study these things. 


But besides real, there is also apparent truth, or 
opinion, or prejudice. With regard to real truth, 
when it is known, the taste which conforms to it is, 
and must be, uniform. With regard to the second 
sort of truth, which may be called truth upon suffer- 
ance, or truth by courtesy, it is not fixed, but variable. 
However, while these opinions and prejudices on 
which it is founded continue, they operate as truth ; 
and the art whose office it is to please the mind, as 
well as instruct it, must direct itself according to 
opinion, or it will not attain its end. 

In proportion as these prejudices are known to be 
generally diffused, or long received, the taste which 
conforms to them approaches nearer to certainty, and 
to a sort of resemblance to real science, even where 
opinions are found to be no better than prejudices. 
And since they deserve, on account of their duration 
and extent, to be considered as really true, they be- 
come capable of no small degree of stability and 
determination, by their permanent and uniform 

As these prejudices become more narrow, more 
local, more transitory, this secondary taste becomes 
more and more fantastical ; recedes from real science ; 
is less to be approved by reason, and less followed by 
practice, — though in no case perhaps to be wholl\- 
neglected, where it does not stand, as it sometimes 
does, in direct defiance of the most respectable opin- 
ions received among mankind. 

Having laid down these positions, I shall proceed 
with less method, because less will serve to explain 
and apply them. 


We will take it for granted that reason is some- 
thing invariable and fixed in the nature of things ; 
and without endeavoring to go back to an account of 
first principles, which forever will elude our search, 
we will conclude that whatever goes under the name 
of taste, which we can fairly bring under the dominion 
of reason, must be considered as equally exempt 
from change. If, therefore, in the course of this 
inquiry, we can show that there are rules for the 
conduct of the artist which are fixed and invariable, 
it follows, of course, that the art of the connoisseur, 
or, in other words, taste, has likewise invariable 

Of the judgment which we make on the works of 
art, and the preference that we give to one class of 
art over another, if a reason be demanded, the ques- 
tion is perhaps evaded by answering, " I judge from 
my taste ; " but it does not follow that a better answer 
cannot be given, though for common gazers this 
may be sufficient. Every man is not obliged to in- 
vestigate the cause of his approbation or dislike. 

The arts would lie open forever to caprice and 
casualty if those who are to judge of their excel- 
lences had no settled principles by which they are 
to regulate their decisions, and the merit or defect of 
performances were to be determined by unguided 
fancy. And indeed we may venture to assert that 
whatever speculative knowledge is necessary to the 
artist is equally and indispensably necessary to the 

The first idea that occurs in the consideration of 
what is fixed in art, or in taste, is that presiding prin- 


ciple of which I have so frequently spoken in former 
discourses, — the general idea of nature. The begin- 
ning, the middle, and the end of everything that is 
valuable in taste is comprised in the knowledge of 
what is truly nature ; for whatever notions are not 
conformable to those of nature, or universal opinion, 
must be considered as more or less capricious. 

My notion of nature comprehends not only the 
forms which nature produces, but also the nature 
and internal fabric and organization, as I may call it, 
of the human mind and imagination. The terms 
" beauty," or "nature," which are general ideas, are but 
different modes of expressing the same thing, whether 
we apply these terms to statues, poetry, or pictures. 
Deformity is not nature, but an accidental deviation 
from her accustomed practice. This general idea, 
therefore, ought to be called nature ; and nothing else, 
correctly speaking, has a right to that name. But we 
are surely so far from speaking, in common conver- 
sation, with any such accuracy that, on the contrary, 
when we criticise Rembrandt and other Dutch painters 
who introduced into their historical pictures exact 
representations of individual objects with all their im- 
perfections, we say, " Though it is not in a good 
taste, yet it is nature " 

This misapplication of terms must be very often 
perplexing to the young student. Is not art, he may 
say, an imitation of nature? Must he not, therefore, 
who imitates her with the greatest fidelity be the best 
artist? By this mode of reasoning Rembrandt has a 
higher place than Raphael. But a very little reflec- 
tion will serve to show us that these particularities 


cannot be nature ; for how can that be the nature of 
man in which no two individuals are the same ? 

It plainly appears that as a work is conducted 
under the influence of general ideas, or partial, it is 
principally to be considered as the effect of a good 
or a bad taste. 

As beauty, therefore, does not consist in taking 
what lies immediately before you, so neither, in our 
pursuit of taste, are those opinions which we first re- 
ceived and adopted the best choice, or the most nat- 
ural to the mind and imagination. In the infancy of 
our knowledge we seize with greediness the good that 
is within our reach ; it is by after-consideration, and 
in consequence of discipline, that we refuse the pres- 
ent for a greater good at a distance. The nobility or 
elevation of all arts, like the excellence of virtue itself, 
consists in adopting this enlarged and comprehensive 
idea; and all criticism built upon the more confined 
view of what is natural may properly be called shal- 
loiv criticism, rather than false ; its defect is that the 
truth is not sufficiently extensive. 

It has sometimes happened that some of the great- 
est men in our art have been betrayed into errors by 
this confined mode of reasoning. Poussin, who upon 
the whole may be adduced as an artist strictly atten- 
tive to the most enlarged and extensive ideas of na- 
ture, from not having settled principles on this point, 
has, in one instance at least, I think, deserted truth 
for prejudice. He is said to have vindicated the con- 
duct of Julio Romano for his inattention to the masses 
of light and shade, or grouping the figures in " The 
Battle of Constantine," as if designedly neglected, the 


better to correspond with the hurry and confusion of 
a battle. Poussin's own conduct in many of his pic- 
tures makes us more easily give credit to this report. 
That it was too much his own practice, " The Sacri- 
fice to Silenus," and " The Triumph of Bacchus and 
Ariadne," may be produced as instances; but this 
principle is still more apparent, and may be said to 
be even more ostentatiously displayed in his " Perseus 
and Medusa's Head." 

This is undoubtedly a subject of great bustle and 
tumult, and that the first effect of the picture may 
correspond to the subject, every principle of composi- 
tion is violated; there is no principal figure, no prin- 
cipal light, no groups ; everything is dispersed, and 
in such a state of confusion that the eye finds no re- 
pose anywhere. In consequence of the forbidding 
appearance, I remember turning from it with disgust, 
and should not have looked a second time if I had 
not been called back to a closer inspection. I then 
indeed found, what we may expect always to find in 
the works of Poussin, correct drawing, forcible ex- 
pression, and just character; in short, all the excel- 
lences which so much distinguish the works of this 
learned painter. 

This conduct of Poussin I hold to be entirely im- 
proper to imitate. A picture should please at first 
sight, and appear to invite the spectator's attention ; 
if, on the contrar}-, the general effect offends the eye, 
a second \'icw is not always sought, whatev^er more 
substantial and intrinsic merit it may possess. 

Perhaps no apology ought to be received for 
offences committed against the vehicle (whether it 


be the organ of seeing or of hearing) by which our 
pleasures are conveyed to the mind. We must take 
care that the eye be not perplexed and distracted by 
a confusion of equal parts, or equal lights, or offended 
by an unharmonious mixture of colors, as we should 
guard against offending the ear by unharmonious 
sounds. We may venture to be more confident of 
the truth of this observation, since we find that Shak- 
speare, on a parallel occasion, has made Hamlet rec- 
ommend to the players a precept of the same kind, — 
never to offend the ear by harsh sounds. " In the 
very torrent, tempest, and whirlwind of your passion," 
says he, " you must acquire and beget a temperance 
that may give it smoothness." And yet, at the same 
time he very justly observes, " The end of playing, 
both at the first, and now, was, and is, to hold, as 
't were, the mirror up to nature." No one can deny 
that violent passions will naturally emit harsh and 
disagreeable tones ; yet this great poet and critic 
thought that this imitation of nature would cost 
too much if purchased at the expense of dis- 
agreeable sensations, or, as he expresses it, of 
" splitting the ear," The poet and actor, as well 
as the painter of genius, who is well acquainted 
with all the variety and sources of pleasure in the 
mind and imagination, has little regard or attention 
to common nature, or creeping after common-sense. 
By overleaping those narrow bounds, he more effec- 
tually seizes the whole mind, and more powerfully 
accomplishes his purpose. This success is ignorantly 
imagined to proceed from inattention to all rules, 
and a defiance of reason and judgment ; whereas it 


is in truth acting according to the best rules and 
the justest reason- 
He who thinks nature, in the narrow sense of the 
word, is alone to be followed, will produce but a 
scanty entertainment for the imagination ; everything 
is to be done with which it is natural for the mind to 
be pleased, whether it proceeds from simplicity or 
variety, uniformity or irregularity ; whether the scenes 
are familiar or exotic, rude and wild, or enriched and 
cultivated ; for it is natural for the mind to be pleased 
with all these in their turn. In short, whatever pleases 
has in it what is analogous to the mind, and is, there- 
fore, in the highest and best sense of the word, 

It is the sense of nature or truth which ought more 
particularly to be cultivated by the professors of art; 
and it may be observed that many wise and learned 
men, who have accustomed their minds to admit noth- 
ing for truth but what can be proved by mathemati- 
cal demonstration, have seldom any relish for those 
arts which address themselves to the fancy, the recti- 
tude and truth of which is known by another kind of 
proof; and we may add that the acquisition of this 
knowledge requires as much circumspection and sa- 
gacity as is necessary to attain those truths which are 
more capable of demonstration. Reason must ulti- 
mately determine our choice on every occasion ; but 
this reason may still be exerted ineffectually by apply- 
ing to taste principles which, though right as far as 
they go, yet do not reach the object. No man, for 
instance, can deny that it seems at first view very 
reasonable that a statue which is to carrv down to 


posterity the resemblance of an individual should be 
dressed in the fashion of the times, in the dress which 
he himself wore. This would certainly be true if the 
dress were part of the man ; but after a time the 
dress is only an amusement for an antiquarian, and 
if it obstructs the general design of the piece it is to 
be disregarded by the artist. Common-sense must 
here give way to a higher sense. In the naked form, 
and in the disposition of the drapery, the difference 
between one artist and another is principally seen. 
But if he is compelled to exhibit the modern dress, 
the naked form is entirely hid, and the drapery is 
already disposed by the skill of the tailor. Were a 
Phidias to obey such absurd commands, he would 
please no more than an ordinary sculptor ; in the in- 
ferior parts of every art the learned and the ignorant 
are nearly upon a level. 

These were probably among the reasons that in- 
duced the sculptor of that wonderful figure of La- 
ocoon, to exhibit him naked, notwithstanding he was 
surprised in the act of sacrificing to Apollo, and con- 
sequently ought to have been shown in his sacerdotal 
habits, if those greater reasons had not preponder- 
ated.^ Art is not yet in so high estimation with us, 
as to obtain so great a sacrifice as the ancients made, 
especially the Grecians, who suffered themselves to 
be represented naked, whether they were generals, 
lawgivers, or kings. 

1 Had he left Laocoon only the fillet, he would in a great degree 
have weakened the expression; for the brow, which is the seat of it, 
would have been in part concealed. Thus, as formerly in the case of 
the shriek he sacrificed expression to beauty, he here offers up con- 
ventionality to expression. — Lessing, Laocoon, chap. v. 


Under this head of balancing and choosing the 
greater reason, or of two evils taking the less, we 
may consider the conduct of Rubens in the Luxem- 
bourg gallery, where he has mixed allegorical figures 
with the representations of real personages, which 
must be acknowledged to be a fault; yet, if the artist 
considered himself as engaged to furnish this gallery 
with a rich, various, and splendid ornament, this 
could not be done, at least in an equal degree, with- 
out peopling the air and water with these allegorical 
figures ; he therefore accomplished all that he pur- 
posed. In this case all lesser considerations, which 
tend to obstruct the great end of the work, must yield 
and give way. 

The variety which portraits and modern dresses, 
mixed with allegorical figures, produce, is not to be 
slightly given up upon a punctilio of reason, when 
that reason deprives the art in a manner of its very 
existence. It must always be remembered that the 
business of a great painter is to produce a great 
picture; he must therefore take especial care not to 
be cajoled by specious arguments out of his materials. 

What has been so often said to the disadvantage of 
allegorical poetry — that it is tedious and uninterest- 
ing — cannot with the same propriety be applied to 
painting, where the interest is of a different kind. If 
allegorical painting produces a greater variety of ideal 
beauty, a richer, a more various and delightful com- 
position, and gives to the artist a greater opportunity 
of exhibiting his skill, all the interest he wishes for is 
accomplished ; such a picture not only attracts, but 
fixes the attention. 


If it be objected that Rubens judged ill at first in 
thinking it necessary to make his work so very orna- 
mental, this puts the question upon new ground. It 
was his peculiar style; he could paint in no other; 
and he was selected for that work, probably because 
it was his style. Nobody will dispute but some of 
the best of the Roman or Bolognian schools would 
have produced a more learned and more noble work. 

This leads us to another important province of 
taste, — that of weighing the value of the different 
classes of the art, and of estimating them accord- 

All arts have means within them of applying them- 
selves with success both to the intellectual and sensi- 
tive part of our natures. It cannot be disputed, 
supposing both these means put in practice with 
equal abilities, to which we ought to give the prefer- 
ence, — to him who represents the heroic arts and 
more dignified passions of man, or to him who, by 
the help of meretricious ornaments, however elegant 
and graceful, captivates the sensuality, as it may be 
called, of our taste. Thus the Roman and Bolognian 
schools are reasonably preferred to the Venetian, 
Flemish, or Dutch schools, as they address them- 
selves to our best and noblest faculties.^ 

Well-turned periods in eloquence, or harmony of 
numbers in poetry, which are in those arts what 
coloring is in painting, however highly we may esteem 

^ Here Reynolds emerges from his metaphysical cloud-land, and 
hits the nail precisely on the head. " It is not in making the eye a 
microscope, but in making it the interpreter and organ of all that can 
touch the soul and the affections, that the perfection of fine art is 
shown" (Hazlitt). 


them, can never be considered as of equal importance 
with the art of unfolding truths that are useful to 
mankind, and which make us better or wiser. Nor 
can those works which remind us of the poverty and 
meanness of our nature be considered as of equal 
rank with what excites ideas of grandeur, or raises 
and dignifies humanity; or, in the words of a late 
poet, which makes the beholder " learn to venerate 
himself as man." ^ 

It is reason and good sense, therefore, which ranks 
and estimates every art, and every part of that art, 
according to its importance, from the painter of ani- 
mated down to inanimated nature. We will not allow 
a man who shall prefer the inferior style to say it is 
his taste ; taste here has nothing, or at least ought to 
have nothing, to do with the question. He wants not 
taste, but sense and soundness of judgment. 

Indeed, perfection in an inferior style may be rea- 
sonably preferred to mediocrity in the highest walks 
of art. A landscape of Claude Lorrain may be pre- 
ferred to a history by Luca Giordano ; but hence 
appears the necessity of the connoisseur's knowing in 
what consists the excellence of each class, in order to 
judge how near it approaches to perfection. 

Even in works of the same kind, as in historj-- 
painting, which is composed of various parts, excel- 
lence of an inferior species, carried to a very high 
degree, will make a work very valuable, and in some 
measure compensate for the absence of the higher 
kinds of merit. It is the duty of the connoisseur to 
know and esteem, as much as it may deserve, every 
1 Dr Goldsmith. 


part of painting; he will not then think even Bassano 
unworthy of his notice, who, though totally devoid 
of expression, sense, grace, or elegance, may be es- 
teemed on account of his admirable taste of colors, 
which, in his best works, are little inferior to those of 

Since I have mentioned Bassano, we must do him 
likewise the justice to acknowledge that though he 
did not aspire to the dignity of expressing the char- 
acters and passions of men, yet, with respect to facility 
and truth in his manner of touching animals of all 
kinds, and giving them what painters call " their 
character," few have excelled him. 

To Bassano we may add Paul Veronese and Tin- 
toret, for their entire inattention to what is justly 
thought the most essential part of our art, the expres- 
sion of the passions. Notwithstanding these glaring 
deficiencies, we justly esteem their works ; but it 
must be remembered that they do not please from 
those defects, but from their great excellences of 
another kind, and in spite of such transgressions. 
These excellences, too, as far as they go, are founded 
in the truth of general nature ; they tell the truth, 
though not the whole truth. 

By these considerations, which can never be too 
frequently impressed, may be obviated two errors, 
which I observed to have been, formerly at least, the 
most prevalent, and to be most injurious to artists ; 
that of thinking taste and genius to have nothing to 
do with reason, and that of taking particular living 
objects for nature. 

I shall now say something on that part of taste 


which, as I have hinted to you before, does not be- 
long so much to the external form of things, but is 
addressed to the mind, and depends on its original 
frame, or, to use the expression, the organization of 
the soul ; I mean the imagination and the passions. 
The principles of these are as invariable as the 
former, and arc to be known and reasoned upon in 
the same manner, by an appeal to common-sense, 
deciding upon the common feelings of mankind. 
This sense, and these feelings, appear to me of equal 
authority, and equally conclusive. Now this appeal 
implies a general uniformity and agreement in the 
minds of men. It would be else an idle and vain 
endeavor to establish rules of art; it would be pur- 
suing a phantom, to attempt to move affections with 
which we were entirely unacquainted. We have no 
reason to suspect there is a greater difference between 
our minds than between our forms ; of which, though 
there are no two alike, yet there is a general simili- 
tude that goes through the whole race of mankind ; 
and those who have cultivated their taste can distin- 
guish what is beautiful or deformed, or, in other 
words, what agrees with or deviates from the general 
idea of nature, in one case, as well as in the other. 

The internal fabric of our minds, as well as the ex- 
ternal form of our bodies, being nearly uniform, it 
seems then to follow of course that, as the imagina- 
tion is incapable of producing anything originally of 
itself, and can only vary and combine those ideas 
with which it is furnished by means of the senses, 
there wAW be necessarily an agreement in the imagi- 
nations, as in the senses of men. There being this 


agreement, it follows that in all cases, in our lightest 
amusements as well as in our most serious actions 
and engagements of life, we must regulate our affec- 
tions of every kind by that of others. The well- 
disciplined mind acknowledges this authority, and 
submits its own opinion to the public voice. It is 
from knowing what are the general feelings and pas- 
sions of mankind that we acquire a true idea of what 
imagination is ; though it appears as if we had noth- 
ing to do but to consult our own particular sensa- 
tions, and these were sufficient to ensure us from all 
error and mistake. 

A knowledge of the disposition and character of the 
human mind can be acquired only by experience; 
a great deal will be learned, I admit, by a habit of 
examining what passes in our bosoms, what are our 
own motives of action, and of what kind of senti- 
ments we are conscious on any occasion. We may 
suppose a uniformity, and conclude that the same 
effect will be produced by the same cause in the 
minds of others. This examination will contribute to 
suggest to us matters of inquiry; but we can never 
be sure that our own sentiments are true and right, 
till they are confirmed by more extensive observa- 
tion. One man opposing another determines noth- 
ing; but a general union of m.inds, like a general 
combination of the forces of all mankind, makes a 
strength that is irresistible. In fact, as he who does 
not know himself does not know others, so it may be 
said with equal truth that he who does not know 
others knows himself but very imperfectly. 

A man who thinks he is guarding himself against 


prejudices by resisting the authority of others, leaves 
open every avenue to singularity, vanity, self-conceit, 
obstinacy, and many other vices, all tending to warp 
the judgment, and prevent the natural operation of 
his faculties. This submission to others is a defer- 
ence which we owe, and indeed, are forced involun- 
tarily to pay. In fact, we never are satisfied with our 
opinions, whatever we may pretend, till they are rat- 
ified and confirmed by the suffrages of the rest of 
mankind. We dispute and wrangle forever; we en- 
deavor to get men to come to us when we do not go 
to them. 

He, therefore, who is acquainted with the works 
which have pleased different ages and different coun- 
tries, and has formed his opinion on them, has more 
materials, and more means of knowing what is anal- 
ogous to the mind of man, than he who is conversant 
only with the works of his own age or country. 
What has pleased, and continues to please, is likely 
to please again ; hence are derived the rules of art, 
and on this immovable foundation they must ever 

This search and study of the history of the mind 
ought not to be confined to one art only. It is by 
the analogy that one art bears to another that man}' 
things are ascertained which either were but faintly 
seen, or perhaps would not have been discovered at 
all if the inventor had not received the first hints 
from the practices of a sister art on a similar occa- 
sion.^ The frequent allusions which every man who 

1 Nulla ars, non alterius artis, aut mater, aut propinqua est. — 
Tertull. as cited by Junius. 



treats of any art is obliged to make to others, in 
order to illustrate and confirm his principles, suffi- 
ciently show their near connection and inseparable 

All arts having the same general end, which is to 
please, and addressing themselves to the same fac- 
ulties through the medium of the senses, it follows 
that their rules and principles must have as great 
affinity as the different materials and the different 
organs or vehicles by which they pass to the mind 
will permit them to retain.^ 

We may therefore conclude that the real substance, 
as it may be called, of what goes under the name of 
taste is fixed and established in the nature of things ; 
that there are certain and regular causes by which 
the imagination and passions of men are affected ; 
and that the knowledge of these causes is acquired 
by a laborious and diligent investigation of nature, 
and by the same slow progress as wisdom or knowl- 
edge of every kind, however instantaneous its opera- 
tions may appear when thus acquired. 

It has been often observed that the good and vir- 
tuous man alone can acquire this true or just relish 
even of works of art. This opinion will not appear 
entirely without foundation when we consider that 
the same habit of mind which is acquired by our 
search after truth in the more serious duties of life, is 
only transferred to the pursuit of lighter amusements. 
The same disposition, the same desire to find some- 

1 Omnes artes quae ad humanitatem pertinent habent qiioddam 
commune vinculum, et quasi cognatione inter se continentur. — 


thing steady, substantial, and durable, on which the 
mind can lean, as it were, and rest with safety, 
actuates us in both cases. The subject only is 
changed. We pursue the same method in our 
search after the idea of beauty and perfection in 
each, — of virtue, by looking forward beyond our- 
selves to society, and to the whole ; of arts, by ex- 
tending our views in the same manner to all ages and 
all times. 

Every art, like our own, has in its composition 
fluctuating as well as fixed principles. It is an at- 
tentive inquiry into their difference that will enable 
us to determine how far we are influenced by custom 
and habit, and what is fixed in the nature of things. 

To distinguish how much has solid foundation, we 
may have recourse to the same proof by which some 
hold that wit ought to be tried, — whether it preserves 
itself when translated. That wit is false which can 
subsist only in one language ; and that picture which 
pleases only one age or one nation owes its reception 
to some local or accidental association of ideas. 

We may apply this to every custom and habit of 
life. Thus, the general principles of urbanity, polite- 
ness, or civility, have been the same in all nations ; 
but the mode in which they are dressed is continually 
varying. The general idea of showing respect is by 
making yourself less ; but the manner, whether by 
bowing the body, kneeling, prostration, pulling off 
the upper part of our dress, or taking away the lower 
is a matter of custom. 

Thus, in regard to ornaments, it would be unjust to 
conclude that because they were at first arbitrarily 


contrived, they are therefore undeserving of our 
attention ; on the contrary, he who neglects the cul- 
tivation of those ornaments acts contrary to nature 
and reason. As life would be imperfect without its 
highest ornaments, the arts, so these arts themselves 
would be imperfect without ^'/^tvV ornaments. Though 
we by no means ought to rank with these positive 
and substantial beauties, yet it must be allowed that 
a knowledge of both is essentially requisite towards 
forming a complete, whole, and perfect taste. It is 
in reality from their ornaments that arts receive their 
peculiar character and complexion ; we may add 
that in them we find the characteristical mark of a 
national taste, — as, by throwing up a feather in the 
air, we know which way the wind blows, better than 
by a more heavy matter. 

The striking distinction between the works of the 
Roman, Bolognian, and Venetian schools consists 
more in that general effect which is produced by 
colors than in the more profound excellences of the 
art ; at least it is from thence that each is distin- 
guished and known at first sight. Thus it is the or- 
naments rather than the proportions of architecture 
which at the first glance distinguish the different 
orders from each other ; the Doric is known by its 
triglyphs, the Ionic by its volutes, and the Corinthian 
by it5 acanthus. 

What distinguishes oratory from a cold narration 
is a more liberal, though chaste, use of those orna- 
ments which go under the name of figurative and 
metaphorical expressions ; and poetry distinguishes 
itself from oratory by words and expressions still 


more ardent and glowing. What separates and dis- 
tinguishes poetry is more particularly the ornament 
of verse ; it is this which gives it its character, and is 
an essential without which it cannot exist. Custom 
has appropriated different metre to different kinds 
of composition, in which the world is not perfectly 
agreed. In England the dispute is not yet settled 
which is to be preferred, rhyme or blank verse. But 
however we disagree about what these metrical or- 
naments shall be, that some metre is essentially 
necessary is universally acknowledged. 

In poetry or eloquence, to determine how far figu- 
rative or metaphorical language may proceed, and 
when it begins to be affectation or beside the truth, 
must be determined by taste ; though this taste, we 
must never forget, is regulated and formed by the 
presiding feelings of mankind, — by those works 
which have approved themselves to all times and all 
persons. Thus, though eloquence has undoubtedly 
an essential and intrinsic excellence, and immovable 
principles common to all languages, and founded in 
the nature of our passions and affections, yet it has 
its ornaments and modes of address which are merely 
arbitrary. What is approved in the eastern nations 
as grand and majestic would be considered by the 
Greeks and Romans as turgid and inflated ; and they 
in return, would be thought by the Orientals to ex- 
press themselves in a cold and insipid manner. 

We may add, likewise, to the credit of ornaments, 
that it is by their means that art itself accomplishes 
its purpose. Fresnoy calls coloring, which is one 
of the chief ornaments of painting, Una sororis, that 


which procures lovers and admirers to the more val- 
uable excellences of the art. 

It appears to be the same right turn of mind which 
enables a man to acquire the truth, or the just idea 
of what is right, in the ornaments, as in the more 
stable principles of art. It has still the same centre 
of perfection, though it is the centre of a smaller 

To illustrate this by the fashion of dress, in which 
there is allowed to be a good or bad taste. The 
component parts of dress are continually changing 
from great to little, from short to long; but the gen- 
eral form still remains ; it is still the same general 
dress, which is comparatively fixed, though on a very 
slender foundation ; but it is on this which fashion 
must rest. He who invents with the most success, 
or dresses in the best taste, would probably, from the 
same sagacity employed to greater purposes, have 
discovered equal skill, or have formed the same cor- 
rect taste, in the highest labors of art. 

I have mentioned taste in dress, which is certainly 
one of the lowest subjects to which this word is ap- 
plied ; yet, as I have before observed, there is a 
right even here, however narrow its foundation, re- ' 
specting the fashion of any particular nation. But 
we have still more slender means of determining to 
which of the different customs of different ages or 
countries we ought to give the preference, since they 
seem to be all equally removed from nature. If a 
European, when he has cut off his beard, and put 
false hair on his head, or bound up his own natural 
hair in regular hard knots, as unlike nature as he can 


possibly make it, and after having rendered them 
immovable by the help of the fat of hogs, has 
covered the whole with flour, laid on by a machine 
with the utmost regularity, — if, when thus attired, he 
issues forth, and meets a Cherokee Indian, who has 
bestowed as much time at his toilet, and laid on with 
equal care and attention his yellow and red ochre on 
particular parts of his forehead or cheeks, as he 
judges most becoming, whoever of these two des- 
pises the other for this attention to the fashion of his 
country, whichever first feels himself provoked to 
laugh, is the barbarian. 

All these fashions are very innocent; neither 
worth disquisition, nor any endeavor to alter them ; 
as the change would, in all probability, be equally 
distant from nature. The only circumstance against 
which indignation may reasonably be moved is where 
the operation is painful or destructive of health, — 
such as some of the practices at Otaheite, and the 
strait-lacing of the English ladies ; of the last of 
which practices, how destructive it must be to health 
and long life the professor of anatomy took an 
opportunity of proving a few days since in this 

It is in dress as in things of greater consequence. 
Fashions originate from those only who have the high 
and powerful advantages of rank, birth, and fortune. 
Many of the ornaments of art, those at least for which 
no reason can be given, are transmitted to us, are 
adopted, and acquire their consequence from the 
company in which we have been used to see them. 
As Greece and Rome are the fountains from whence 


have flowed all kinds of excellence, to that venera- 
tion which they have a right to claim for the pleasure 
and knowledge which they have afforded us we vol- 
untarily add our approbation of every ornament and 
every custom that belonged to them, even to the 
fashion of their dress. For it may be observed that, 
not satisfied with them in their own place, we make 
no difficulty of dressing statues of modern heroes or 
senators in the fashion of the Roman armor or peace- 
ful robe ; we go so far as hardly to bear a statue in 
any other drapery. 

The figures of the great men of those nations have 
come down to us in sculpture. In sculpture remain 
almost all the excellent specimens of ancient art. 
We have so far associated personal dignity to the 
persons thus represented, and the truth of art to 
their manner of representation, that it is not in our 
power any longer to separate them. This is not so 
in painting; because, having no excellent ancient 
portraits, that connection was never formed. Indeed, 
we could no more venture to paint a general officer 
in a Roman military habit than we could make a 
statue in the present uniform. But since we have no 
ancient portraits, to show how ready we are to adopt 
this kind of prejudices, we make the best authority 
among the moderns serve the same purpose. The 
great variety of excellent portraits with which Van 
Dyck has enriched this nation, we are not content to 
admire for their real excellence, but extend our ap- 
probation even to the dress which happened to be 
the fashion of that age. We all very well remember 
how common it was a few years ago for portraits to 


be drawn in this fantastic dress; and this custom is 
not yet entirely laid aside. By this means it must be 
acknowledged very ordinary pictures acquired some- 
thing of the air and effect of the works of Van Dyck, 
and appeared therefore at first sight to be better pict- 
ures than they really were ; they appeared so, how- 
ever, to those only who had the means of making this 
association ; and when made, it was irresistible. But 
this association is nature, and refers to that secondary 
truth that comes from conformity to general preju- 
dice and opinion; it is therefore not merely fantasti- 
cal. Besides the prejudice which we have in favor of 
ancient dresses, there may be likewise other reasons 
for the effect which they produce ; among which we 
may justly rank the simplicity of them, consisting of 
little more than one single piece of drapery, without 
those whimsical, capricious forms by which all other 
dresses are embarrassed. 

Thus, though it is from the prejudice we have in 
favor of the ancients, who have taught us architec- 
ture, that we have adopted likewise their ornaments ; 
and though we are satisfied that neither nature nor 
reason is the foundation of those beauties which we 
imagine we see in that art, }'et if any one, persuaded 
of this truth, should therefore invent new orders of 
equal beauty, which we will suppose to be possible, 
they would not please; nor ought he to complain, 
since the old has that great advantage of having 
custom and prejudice on its side. In this case we 
leave wdiat has every prejudice in its favor, to take 
that which will have no advantage over what we 
have left, but novelty, — which soon destroys itself, 


and at any rate is but a weak antagonist against 

Ancient ornaments, having the right of possession, 
ought not to be removed, unless to make room for 
that whicli not only has higher pretensions, but such 
pretensions as will balance the evil and confusion 
which innovation always brings with it. 

To this we may add that even the durability of the 
materials will often contribute to give a superiority 
to one object over another. Ornaments in buildings, 
with which taste is principally concerned, are com- 
posed of materials which last longer than those of 
which dress is composed ; the former, therefore, make 
higher pretensions to our favor and prejudice. 

Some attention is surely due to what we can no 
more get rid of than we can go out of ourselves. 
We are creatures of prejudice; we neither can nor 
ought to eradicate it; we must only regulate it by 
reason, which kind of regulation is indeed little more 
than obliging the lesser, the local and temporal pre- 
judices, to give way to those which are more durable 
and lasting. 

He, therefore, who in his practice of portrait- 
painting wishes to dignify his subject, which we will 
suppose to be a lady, will not paint her in the mod 
ern dress, the familiarity of which alone is sufficient 
to destroy all dignity.^ He takes care that his work 
shall correspond to those ideas and that imagination 
which he knows will regulate the judgment of others, 

^ Yet Reynolds himself in his portraits " renders with astonishing 
facility the most fugitive freaks of fashion, giving them the immortal 
stamp of art" (Chesneau). 


and, therefore, dresses his figure something with the 
general air of the antique for the sake of dignity, and 
preserves something of the modern for the sake of 
likeness. By this conduct his works correspond with 
those prejudices which we have in favor of what we 
continually see ; and the relish of the antique sim- 
plicity corresponds with what we may call the more 
learned and scientific prejudice. 

There was a statue made not long since of Voltaire, 
which the sculptor, not having that respect for the 
prejudices of mankind which he ought to have had, 
made entirely naked, and as meagre and emaciated 
as the original is said to be. The consequence was 
what might have been expected ; it remained in the 
sculptor's shop, though it was intended as a public 
ornament, and a public honor to Voltaire, for it was 
procured at the expense of his contemporary wits 
and admirers. 

Whoever would reform a nation, supposing a bad 
taste to prevail in it, will not accomplish his purpose 
by going directly against the stream of their preju- 
dices. Men's minds must be prepared to receive 
what is new to them. Reformation is a work of time. 
A national taste, however wrong it may be, cannot be 
totally changed at once ; we must yield a little to the 
prepossession which has taken hold on the mind, and 
we may then bring people to adopt what would offend 
them if endeavored to be introduced by violence. 
When Battista Franco was employed, in conjunction 
with Titian, Paul Veronese, and Tintoret, to adorn the 
library of St. Mark, his work, Vasari says, gave less 
satisfaction than any of the others; the dry manner 


of the Roman school was very ill calculated to please 
eyes that had been accustomed to the luxuriance, 
splendor, and richness of Venetian coloring. Had 
the Romans been the judges of this work, probably 
the determination would have been just contrary; 
for in the more noble parts of the art Battista Franco 
was perhaps not inferior to any of his rivals. 

It has been the main scope and principal end of 
this discourse to demonstrate the reality of a standard 
in taste as well as in corporeal beauty ; that a false or 
depraved taste is a thing as well known, as easily dis- 
covered, as any thing that is deformed, misshapen, or 
wrong in our form or outward make ; and that this 
knowledge is derived from the uniformity of senti- 
ments among mankind, from whence proceeds the 
knowledge of what are the general habits of nature, 
the result of which is an idea of perfect beauty. 

If what has been advanced be true, that besides 
this beauty or truth which is formed on the uniform, 
eternal, and immutable laws of nature, and which of 
necessity can be but o)ie, — that besides this one im- 
mutable verity there are likewise what we have called 
apparent or secondary truths, proceeding from local 
and temporary prejudices, fancies, fashions, or acci- 
dental connection of ideas ; if it appears that these 
last have still their foundation, however slender, in 
the original fabric of our minds, — it follows that all 
these truths or beauties deserve and require the at- 
tention of the artist, in proportion to their stability or 
duration, or as their influence is more or less exten- 
sive. And let me add that, as they ought not to pass 
their just bounds, so neither do they, in a well regulated 


taste, at all prevent or weaken the influence of those 
general principles which alone can give to art its true 
and permanent dignity. 

To form this just taste is undoubtedly in your own 
power ; but it is to reason and philosophy that you 
must have recourse ; from them you must borrow the 
balance, by which is to be weighed and estimated the 
value of every pretension that intrudes itself on your 

The general objection which is made to the intro- 
duction of philosophy into the regions of taste is 
that it checks and restrains the flights of the imagi- 
nation, and gives that timidity which an over-careful- 
ness not to err or act contrary to reason is likely to 
produce. It is not so. Fear is neither reason nor 
philosophy. The true spirit of philosophy, by giving 
knowledge, gives a manly confidence, and substitutes 
rational firmness in the place of vain presumption. 
A man of real taste is always a man of judgment in 
other respects ; and those inventions which either dis- 
dain or shrink from reason are generally, I fear, more 
like the dreams of a distempered brain than the ex- 
alted enthusiasm of a sound and true genius. In the 
midst of the highest flights of fancy or imagination, 
reason ought to preside from first to last, though I ad- 
mit her more powerful operation is upon reflection. 

Let me add that some of the greatest names of an- 
tiquity, and those who have most distinguished them- 
selves in works of genius and imagination, were equally 
eminent for their critical skill. Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, 
and Horace; and among the moderns, Boileau, Cor- 
neille, Pope, and Dr^'dcn, are at least instances of gc- 


nius not being destroyed by attention or subjection to 
rules and science. I should hope, therefore, that the 
natural consequence of what has been said would be 
to excite in you a desire of knowing the principles 
and conduct of the great masters of our art, and re- 
spect and veneration for them when known. 

Mrs. Robinson. 


Delivered to the Students of the Royal A cade my, on the Distri- 
bution of tlie Prizes, December lo, 1778. 


I HAVE recommended in former^ discourses that 
artists should learn their profession by endeavoring 
to form an idea of perfection from the different ex- 
cellences which lie dispersed in the various schools 
of painting. Some difficulty will still occur to know 
what is beauty, and where it may be found ; one 
would wish not to be obliged to take it entirely on 
the credit of fame, — though to this, I acknowledge, 
the younger students must unavoidably submit. Any 
suspicion in them of the chance of their being de- 
ceived will have more tendency to obstruct their ad- 
vancement than even an enthusiastic confidence in 
the perfection of their models. But to the more ad- 
vanced in the art. who wish to stand on more stable 
and firmer ground, and to establish principles on a 
stronger foundation than authority, however venera- 

1 Discourses II. and VI. 


ble or powerful, it may be safely told that there is 
still a higher tribunal, to which those great masters 
themselves must submit, and to which, indeed, every 
excellence in art must be ultimately referred. He 
who is ambitious to enlarge the boundaries of his 
art must extend his views beyond the precepts which 
are found in books or may be drawn from the prac- 
tice of his predecessors, to a knowledge of those pre- 
cepts in the mind, those operations of intellectual 
nature, to which everything that aspires to please 
must be proportioned and accommodated. 

Poetry, having a more extensive power than our 
art, exerts its influence over almost all the passions ; 
among those may be reckoned one of our most prev- 
alent dispositions, — anxiety for the future. Poetry 
operates by raising our curiosity, engaging the mind 
by degrees to take an interest in the event, keeping 
that event suspended, and surprising at last with an 
unexpected catastrophe. 

The painter's art is more confined, and has noth- 
ing that corresponds with, or perhaps is equivalent 
to, this power and advantage of leading the mind on, 
till attention is totally engaged. What is done by 
painting must be done at one blow; curiosity has 
received at once all the satisfaction it can ever have.^ 

1 " — the poet is not comi^elled to concentrate his picture into the 
space of a single moment. He has it in his power to take up every 
action of his hero at its source, and pursue it to its issue, through 
all possible variations. Each of these, which would cost the artist 
a separate work, costs the poet but a single trait; and should this 
trait, if viewed by itself, offend the imagination of the hearer, either 
such preparation has been made for it by what has preceded, or it 
will be so softened and compensated by what follows, that its solitary 


There are, however, other intellectual qualities and 
dispositions which the painter can satisfy and afifect 
as powerfully as the poet. Among those we may 
reckon our love of novelty, variety, and contrast; 
these qualities, on examination, will be found to re- 
fer to a certain activity and restlessness which has a 
pleasure and delight in being exercised and put in 
motion. Art, therefore, only administers to those 
wants and desires of the mind. 

It requires no long disquisition to show that the 
dispositions which I have stated actually subsist in 
the human mind. Variety reanimates the attention, 
which is apt to languish under a continual sameness. 
Novelty makes a more forcible impression on the 
mind than can be made by the representation of 
what we have often seen before ; and contrasts rouse 
the power of comparison by opposition. All this is 
obvious; but, on the other hand, it must be remem- 
bered that the mind, though an active principle, has 
likewise a disposition to indolence ; and though it 
loves exercise, loves it only to a certain degree, be- 
yond which it is very unwilling to be led or driven ; 
the pursuit, therefore, of novelty and variety may be 
carried to excess. When variety entirely destroys 
the pleasure proceeding from uniformity and repeti- 
tion, and when novelty counteracts and shuts out the 
pleasure arising from old habits and customs, they 
oppose too much the indolence of our disposition; 
the mind, therefore, can bear with pleasure but a 

impression is lost, and the combination produces the best possible 
effect. . . . Time is the department of the poet, as space is that of 
the painter." — Lessing, Laocooii 



small portion of novelty at a time. The main part 
of the work must be in the mode to which we have 
been used. An afifection to old habits and customs 
I take to be the predominant disposition of the mind, 
and novelty comes as an exception ; where all is nov- 
elty, the attention, the exercise of the mind is too 
violent. Contrast, in the same manner, when it ex- 
ceeds certain limits, is as disagreeable as a violent 
and perpetual opposition; it gives to the senses in 
their progress a more sudden change than they can 
bear with pleasure. 

It is, then, apparent that those qualities, however 
they contribute to the perfection of art when kept 
within certain bounds, if they are carried to excess 
become defects, and require correction ; a work con- 
sequently will not proceed better and better as it is 
more varied. Variety can never be the groundwork 
and principle of the performance, — it must be only 
employed to recreate and relieve. 

To apply these general observations, which belong 
equally to all arts, to ours in particular. In a com- 
position, when the objects are scattered and divided 
into many equal parts, the eye is perplexed and fa- 
tigued from not knowing where to find the principal 
action, or which is the principal figure ; for where all 
are making equal pretensions to notice, all are in 
equal danger of neglect. 

The expression which is used very often on these 
occasions is, "The piece wants repose;" a word 
which perfectly expresses a relief of the mind from 
that state of hurry and anxiety which it suffers when 
looking at a work of this character. 


On the other hand, absolute unity — that is, a large 
work consisting of one group or mass of light only 
— would be as defective as an heroic poem without 
episode, or any collateral incidents to recreate the 
mind with that variety which it always requires. 

An instance occurs to mc of two painters (Rem- 
brandt and Poussin), of characters totally opposite 
to each other in every respect, but in nothing more 
than in their mode of composition, and management 
of light and shadow. Rembrandt's manner is abso- 
lute unity ; he often has but one group, and exhibits 
little more then one spot of light in the midst of a 
large quantity of shadow ; if he has a second mass, 
that second bears no proportion to the principal. 
Poussin, on the contrary, has scarce any principal 
mass of light at all, and his figures are often too 
much dispersed, without sufficient attention to place 
them in groups. 

The conduct of these two painters is entirely the 
reverse of what might be expected from their general 
style and character, — the works of Poussin being as 
much distinguished for simplicity as those of Rem- 
brandt for combination. Even this conduct of Pous- 
sin might proceed from two great an affection to sim- 
plicity of another kind, — too great a desire to avoid 
that ostentation of art, with regard to light and 
shadow, on which Rembrandt so much wished to 
draw the attention ; however, each of them ran into 
contrary extremes, and it is difficult to determine 
which is the most reprehensible, both being equally 
distant from the demands of nature and the purposes 
of art. 


The same just moderation must be observed in re- 
gard to ornaments ; nothing will contribute more to 
destroy repose than profusion, of whatever kind, 
whether it consists in the multiplicity of objects, or 
the variety and brightness of colors. On the other 
hand, a work without ornament, instead of simplicity, 
to which it makes pretensions, has rather the appear- 
ance of poverty. The degree to which ornaments 
are admissible must be regulated by the professed 
style of the work ; but we may be sure of this truth, 

— that the most ornamental style requires repose to 
set off even its ornaments to advantage. I cannot 
avoid mentioning here an instance of repose in that 
faithful and accurate painter of nature, Shakespeare, 

— the short dialogue between Duncan and Banquo, 
while they are approaching the gates of Macbeth's 
castle. Their conversation very naturally turns upon 
the beauty of its situation, and the pleasantness of 
the air; and Banquo, observing the martlets' nests 
in every recess of the cornice, remarks that where 
those birds most breed and haunt the air is delicate. 
The subject of this quiet and easy conversation gives 
that repose so necessary to the mind after the tu- 
multuous bustle of the preceding scenes, and per- 
fectly contrasts the scene of horror that immediately 
succeeds. It seems as if Shakespeare asked himself, 
" What is a prince likely to say to his attendants on 
such an occasion?" The modern writers seem, on 
the contrary, to be always searching for new thoughts 
such as never could occur to man in the situation 
represented. This is also frequently the practice of 
Homer, who from the midst of battles and horrors 


relieves and refreshes the mind of the reader, by in- 
troducing some quiet rural image, or picture of fa- 
miliar domestic life. The writers of every age and 
country where taste has begun to decline, paint and 
adorn every object they touch ; are always on the 
stretch ; never deviate or sink a moment from the 
pompous and the brilliant. Lucan, Statins, and 
Claudian (as a learned critic has observed) are ex- 
amples of this bad taste and want of judgment; they 
never soften their tones, or condescend to be natural ; 
all is exaggeration and perpetual splendoi, without 
affording repose of any kind. 

As we are speaking of excesses, it will not be re- 
mote from our purpose to say a few words upon 
simplicity; which in one of the senses in which it is 
used, is considered as the general corrector of excess. 
We shall at present forbear to consider it as imply- 
ing that exact conduct which proceeds from an in- 
timate knowledge of simple, unadulterated nature, as 
it is then only another word for perfection, which 
neither stops short of nor oversteps reality and truth. 

In our inquiry after simplicity, as in many other 
inquiries of this nature, we can best explain what is 
right by showing what is wrong; and, indeed, in this 
case it seems to be absolutely necessary; simplicity, 
being only a negative virtue, cannot be described or 
defined. We must therefore explain its nature, and 
show the advantage and beauty which are derived 
from it, by showing the deformity which proceeds 
from its neglect. 

Though instances of this neglect might be ex- 
pected to be found in practice, we should not expect 


to find in the works of critics precepts that bid defi- 
ance to simplicity and everything that relates to it. 
De Piles recommends to us portrait-painters to add 
grace and dignity to the characters of those whose pic- 
tures we draw. So far he is undoubtedly right ; but, 
unluckily, he descends to particulars, and gives his 
own idea of grace and dignity. "If," says he, "you 
draw persons of high character and dignity, they 
ought to be drawn in such an attitude that the por- 
traits must seem to speak to us of themselves, and, 
as it were, to say to us, ' Stop, take notice of me, I 
am that invincible king, surrounded by majesty;' 
' I am that valiant commander who struck terror 
everywhere ; ' 'I am that great minister who knew 
all the springs of politics:' 'I am that magistrate 
of consummate wisdom and probity.' " He goes 
on in this manner with all the characters he can 
think on. We may contract the tumor of this 
presumptuous loftiness with the natural, unaffected 
air of the portraits of Titian, where dignity, seeming 
to be natural and inherent, draws spontaneous rev- 
erence, and instead of being thus vainly assumed, 
has the appearance of an unalienable adjunct; 
whereas such pompous and labored insolence of 
grandeur is so far from creating respect that it be- 
trays vulgarity and meanness, and new-acquired 

The painters, many of them at least, have not been 
backward in adopting the notions contained in these 
precepts. The portraits of Rigaud are perfect exam- 
ples of an implicit observance of these rules of De 
Piles; so that though he was a painter of great merit 


in many respects, yet that merit is entirely overpow- 
ered by a total absence of simplicity in every sense. 

Not to multiply instances which might be produced 
for this purpose from the works of history-painters, 
I shall mention only one, — a picture which I have 
seen of the Supreme Being, by Coypell. 

This subject the Roman Catholic painters have 
taken the liberty to represent, however indecent the 
attempt, and however obvious the impossibility of 
any approach to an adequate representation ; but 
here the air and character which the painter has 
given — and he has doubtless given the highest he 
could conceive — are so degraded by an attempt at 
such dignity as De Piles has recommended, that we 
are enraged at the folly and presumption of the artist, 
and consider it as little less than profanation. 

As we have passed to a neighboring nation for in- 
stances of want of this quality, we must acknowledge 
at the same time that the)- have produced great ex- 
amples of simplicity in Poussin and Le Sueur. But 
as we are speaking of the most refined and subtle 
notion of perfection, may we not inquire whether a 
curious eye cannot discern some faults even in those 
great men ? I can fancy that even Poussin, by ab- 
horring that aftectation and that want of simplicity 
which he observed in his countrymen, has, in certain 
particulars, fallen into the contrary extreme, so far 
as to approach to a kind of affectation, — to what in 
writing would be called pedantry. 

When simplicity, instead of being a corrector, 
seems to set up for herself; that is, when an artist 
seems to value himself solely upon this quality, such 


an ostentatious display of simplicity becomes then as 
disagreeable and nauseous as any other kind of affec- 
tation. He is, however, in this case likely enough to 
sit down contented with his own work ; for though he 
finds the world look at it with indifference or dislike, 
as being destitute of every quality that can recreate 
or give pleasure to the mind, yet he consoles himself 
that it has simplicity, a beauty of too pure and chaste 
a nature to be relished by vulgar minds. 

It is in art as in morals ; no character would in- 
spire us with an enthusiastic admiration of his virtue, 
if that virtue consisted only in an absence of vice. 
Something more is required ; a man must do more 
than merely his duty, to be a hero. 

Those works of the ancients which are in the high- 
est esteem have something besides mere simplicity 
to recommend them. The Apollo, the Venus, the 
Laocoon, the Gladiator, have a certain composition 
of action, have contrasts sufficient to give grace and 
energy in a high degree ; but it must be confessed 
of the many thousand antique statues which we hav^e, 
that their general characteristic is bordering at least 
on inanimate insipidity.^ 

Simplicity, when so very inartificial as to seem to 
evade the difficulties of art, is a very suspicious 

I do not, however, wish to degrade simplicity from 
the high estimation in which it has been ever justly 

1 This "inanimate insipidity," when seen through Winckelman's 
eyes, becomes a noble simplicity and quiet grandeur. " As," says he, 
" the depths of the sea always remain calm, however much the sur- 
face may be raging, so the expression in the figures of the Greeks, un- 
der every form of passion, shows a great and self-collected soul." 


held. It is our barrier against that great enemy to 
truth and nature, affectation, which is ever clinging 
to the pencil, and ready to drop in and poison every- 
thing it touches. 

Our love and affection to simplicity proceeds in a 
great measure from our aversion to every kind of 
affectation. There is likewise another reason why so 
much stress is laid upon this \-irtuc, — the propensity 
which artists have to fall into the contrary extreme ; 
we therefore set a guard on that side which is most 
assailable. When a young artist is first told that his 
composition and his attitudes must be contrasted ; that 
he must turn the head contrary to the position of the 
body, in order to produce grace and animation ; that 
his outline must be undulating and swelling, to give 
grandeur ; and that the eye must be gratified with a 
variety of colors ; when he is told this, with certain 
animating words of " spirit," " dignity," " energ}%" 
" grace," " greatness of style," and " brilliancy of 
tints," he becomes suddenly vain of his newly-ac- 
quired knowledge, and never thinks he can carry 
those rules too far. It is then that the aid of sim- 
plicity ought to be called in to correct the exuber- 
ance of youthful ardor. 

The same may be said in regsrd to coloring, which 
in its pre-eminence is particularly applied to flesh. 
An artist, in his first essay of imitating nature, would 
make the whole mass of one color, as the oldest 
painters did, till he is taught to observe not only the 
variety of tints which are in the object itself, but the 
differences produced b\- the gradual decline of light 
to shadow; he then immediately puts his instruction 


in practice, and introduces a variety of distinct colors. 
He must then be again corrected and told, that 
though there is this variety, yet the effect of the 
whole upon the eye must have the union and sim- 
plicity of the coloring of nature. 

And here we may observe that the progress of an 
individual student bears a great resemblance to the 
progress and advancement of the art itself. Want of 
simplicity would probably be not one of the defects 
of an artist who had studied nature only, as it was 
not of the old masters, who lived in the time pre- 
ceding the great art of painting ; on the contrary, 
their works are too simple and too inartificial. 

The art in its infancy, like the first work of a stu- 
dent, was dry, hard, and simple. But this kind of 
barbarous simplicity would be better named penury, 
as it proceeds from mere want, — from want of knowl- 
edge, want of resources, want of abilities to be other- 
wise; their simplicity was the off"spring, not of choice, 
but necessity. 

In the second stage they were sensible of this pov- 
erty; and those who were the most sensible of the 
want were the best judges of the measure of the sup- 
ply. There were painters who emerged from poverty 
without falling into luxury. Their success induced 
others, who probably never would of themselves have 
had strength of mind to discover the original defect, 
to endeavor at the remedy by an abuse ; and they 
ran into the contrary extreme. But however they 
may have strayed, we cannot recommend to them to 
return to that simplicity which they have justh' 
quitted, but to deal out their abundance with a more 


sparing hand, with that dignity which makes no 
parade either of its riches or of its art. It is not 
easy to give a rule which may serve to fix this just 
and correct medium ; because, when we may have 
fixed, or nearly fixed, the middle point, taken as a 
general principle, circumstances may oblige us to 
depart from it, either on the side of simplicity, or on 
that of variety and decoration. 

I thought it necessary in a former discourse, speak- 
ing of the difference of the sublime and ornamental 
style of painting — in order to excite your attention 
to the more manly, noble, and dignified manner — to 
leave perhaps an impression too contemptuous of 
those ornamental parts of our art, for which many 
have valued themselves, and many works are much 
valued and esteemed. 

I said then what I thought it was right at that time 
to say. I supposed the disposition of young men 
more inclinable to splendid negligence than persever- 
ance in laborious application to acquire correctness, 
and therefore did as we do in making what is crooked 
straight, by bending it the contrary way, in order 
that it may remain straight at last. 

For this purpose, then, and to correct excess or 
neglect of any kind, we may here add that it is not 
enough that a work be learned ; it must be pleas- 
ing; the painter must add grace to strength, if 
he desires to secure the first impression in his favor. 
Our taste has a kind of sensuality about it, as well 
as a love of the sublime ; both these qualities of the 
mind are to have their proper consequence, as far as 
they do not counteract each other; for that is the 


grand error which much care ought to be taken to 

There are some rules whose absolute authority, like 
that of our nurses, continues no longer than while we 
are in a state of childhood. One of the first rules, 
for instance, that I believe every master would give 
to a young pupil, respecting his conduct and man- 
agement of light and shadow, would be what Leonardo 
da Vinci has actually given, — that you must oppose a 
light ground to the shadowed side of your figure, and 
a dark ground to the light side. If Leonardo had 
lived to see the superior splendor and effect which 
has been since produced by the exactly contrary 
conduct, — by joining light to light and shadow to 
shadow, — though without doubt he would have ad- 
mired it, yet, as it ought not, so probably it would 
not be the first rule with which he would have begun 
his instructions. 

Again; in the artificial management of the figures, 
it is directed that they shall contrast each other ac- 
cording to the rules generally given ; that if one figure 
opposes his front to the spectator, the next figure is 
to have his back turned, and that the limbs of each 
individual figure be contrasted, — that is, if the right 
leg be put forward, the right arm is to be drawn 

It is very proper that those rules should be given 
in the Academy; it is proper the young students 
should be informed that some research is to be 
made, and that they should be habituated to con- 
sider every excellence as reducible to principles. Be- 
sides, it is the natural progress of instruction to teach 


first what is obvious and perceptible to the senses, 
and from hence proceed gradually to notions large, 
liberal, and complete, such as comprise the more re- 
fined and higher excellences in art. But when stu- 
dents are more advanced, they will find that the 
greatest beauties of character and expression are pro- 
duced without contrast; nay more, that this contrast 
would ruin and destroy that natural energy of men 
engaged in real action, unsolicitous of grace. Saint 
Paul preaching at Athens, in one of the cartoons, far 
from any affected academical contrast of limbs, stands 
equally on both legs, and both hands are in the same 
attitude ; add contrast, and the whole energy and un- 
affected grace of the figure is destroyed. Elymas the 
sorcerer stretches both hands forward in the same 
direction, which gives perfectly the expression in- 
tended. Indeed, you never will find in the works 
of Raphael any of those school-boy affected con- 
trasts. Whatever contrast there is appears without 
any seeming agency of art, by the natural chance of 

What has been said of the evil of excesses of all 
kinds, whether of simplicity, variety, or contrast, 
naturally suggests to the painter the necessity of a 
general inquiry into the true meaning and cause of 
rules, and how they operate on those faculties to 
which they are addressed. By knowing their general 
purpose and meaning he will often find that he need 
not confine himself to the literal sense ; it will be 
sufficient if he preserve the spirit of the law. 

Critical remarks are not always understood without 
examples ; it may not be improper, therefore, to give 


instances where the rule itself, though generally re- 
ceived, is false, or where a narrow conception of it 
may lead the artists into great errors. 

It is given as a rule by Fresnoy that " the princi- 
pal figure of a subject must appear in the midst of 
the picture, under the principal light, to distinguish it 
from the rest." A painter who should think himself 
obliged secretly to follow this rule, would encumber 
himself with needless difficulties ; he would be con- 
fined to great uniformity of composition, and be de- 
prived of many beauties which are incompatible with 
its observance. The meaning of this rule extends, or 
ought to extend, no further than this, — that the 
principal figure should be immediately distinguished 
at the first glance of the eye ; but there is no neces- 
sity that the principal light should fall on the prin- 
cipal figure, or that the principal figure should be in 
the middle of the picture. It is sufficient that it be 
distinguished by its place, or by the attention of other 
figures pointing it out to the spectator. So far is 
this rule from being indispensable that it is very sel- 
dom practised, — other considerations of greater con- 
sequence often standing in the way. Examples in 
opposition to this rule are found in the cartoons in 
" Christ's Charge to Peter," the " Preaching of Saint 
Paul," and " Elymas the Sorcerer," who is undoubt- 
edly the principal object in that picture. In none of 
those compositions is the principal figure in the midst 
of the picture. In the very admirable composition of 
the " Tent of Darius," by Le Brun, Alexander is not 
in the middle of the picture, nor does the principal 
light fall on him ; but the attention of all the other 


figures immediately distinguishes him, and distin- 
guishes him more properly; the greatest light falls 
on the daughter of Darius, who is in the middle of 
the picture, where it is more necessary the principal 
h'ght should be placed. 

It is very extraordinar}- that Felibien, who has given 
a very minute description of this picture, but indeed 
such a description as may be called rather panegyric 
than criticism, thinking it necessary (according to the 
precept of Fresnoy) that Alexander should possess 
the principal light, has accordingly given it to him; 
he might with equal truth have said that he was placed 
in the middle of the picture, as he seemed resolv^ed to 
give this piece every kind of excellence which he con- 
ceived to be necessary to perfection. His generosity 
is here unluckily misapplied, as it would have de- 
stroyed, in a great measure, the beauty of the 

Another instance occurs to me, where equal liberty 
may be taken in regard to the management of light. 
Though the general practice is to make a large mass 
about the middle of the picture surrounded by 
shadowy the reverse may be practised, and the spirit 
of the rule may still be preserved. Examples of this 
principle reversed may be found very frequently in 
the works of the Venetian school. In the great com- 
position of Paul Veronese, "The Marriage at Cana," 
the figures are, for the most part, in half shadow; 
the great light is in the sky; and, indeed, the general 
effect of this picture, which is so striking, is no more 
than what we often see in landscapes, in small pic- 
tures of fairs and country feasts; but those principles 


of light and shadow being transferred to a large 
scale, to a space containing near a hundred figures 
as large as life, and conducted to all appearance with 
as much facility, and with an attention as steadily 
fixed upon the whole together, as if it were a small 
picture immediately under the eye, the work justly 
excites our admiration, — the difficulty being in- 
creased as the extent is enlarged. 

The various modes of composition are infinite; 
sometimes it shall consist of one large group in the 
middle of the picture, and the smaller groups on each 
side; or a plain space in the middle, and the groups 
of figures ranked round this vacuity. 

Whether this principal broad light be in the mid- 
dle space of ground, as in " The School of Athens; " 
or in the sky, as in " The Marriage at Cana," in " The 
Andromeda," and in the most of the pictures of Paul 
Veronese ; or whether the light be on the groups ; 
whatever mode of composition is adopted, every 
variety and license is allowable. This only is indis- 
putably necessary: that to prevent the eye from be- 
ing distracted and confused by a multiplicity of 
objects of equal magnitude, those objects, whether 
they consist of lights, shadows, or figures, must be 
disposed in large masses and groups properly v^aried 
and contrasted ; that to a certain quantity of action 
a proportioned space of plain ground is required ; 
that light is to be supported by sufficient shadow; 
and we may add that a certain quantity of cold col- 
ors is necessary to give value and lustre to the warm 
colors. What those proportions are cannot be so well 
learned by precept as by observation on pictures, and 



in this knowledge bad pictures will instruct, as well as 
good. Our inquiry why pictures have a bad effect 
may be as advantageous as the inquiry why they 
have a good effect; each will corroborate the princi- 
ples that are suggested by the other. 

Though it is not my business to enter into the 
detail of our art, yet I must take this opportunity of 
mentioning one of the means of producing that great 
effect which we observe in the works of the Venetian 
painters, as I think it is not generally known or ob- 
served. It ought, in my opinion, to be indispensably 
observed that the masses of light in a picture be 
always of a warm mellow color, yellow, red, or a 
yellowish-white; and that the blue, the gray, or the 
green colors be kept almost entirely out of these 
masses, and be used only to support and set off these 
warm colors ; and for this purpose a small portion 
of cold colors will be sufficient. 

Let this conduct be reversed ; let the light be cold, 
and the surrounding colors warm, as we often see 
in the works of the Roman and Florentine painters, 
and it will be out of the power of art, even in the 
hands of Rubens or Titian, to make a picture splen- 
did and harmonious. 

Le Brun and Carlo Maratti were two painters of 
great merit, and particularly what may be called 
academical merit, but were both deficient in this 
management of colors; the want of observing this 
rule is one of the causes of that heaviness of effect 
which is so observable in their works. The principal 
light in the picture of Le Brun, which I just now 
mentioned, falls on Statira, who is dressed very in- 



judiciously in a pale blue drapery. It is true, he has 
heightened his blue with gold, but that is not enough ; 
the whole picture has a heavy air, and by no means 
answers the expectations raised by the print. Pous- 
sin often made a spot of blue drapery, when the 
general hue of the picture was inclinable to brown or 
yellow; which shows sufficiently that harmony of 
coloring was not a part of the art that had much 
engaged the attention of that great painter. 

The conduct of Titian in the picture of " Bacchus 
and Ariadne " ^ has been much celebrated, and justly, 
for the harmony of coloring. To Ariadne is given 
(say the critics) a red scarf, to relieve the figure 
from the sea, which is behind her. It is not for that 
reason alone, but for another of much greater conse- 
quence ; for the sake of the general harmony and 
effect of the picture. The figure of Ariadne is sepa- 
rated from the great group, and is dressed in blue, 
which, added to the color of the sea, makes that 
quantity of cold color which Titian thought necessary 
for the support and brilliancy of the great group ; 
which group is composed, with very little exception, 
entirely of mellow colors. But as the picture in this 
case would be divided into two distinct parts, one half 
cold, and the other warm, it was necessary to carry 
some of the mellow colors of the great group into 
the cold part of the picture, and a part of the cold 
into the great group ; accordingly, Titian gave 

^ One of the gems of the British National Gallery, a marvel of 
poetic realization and technical excellence. Ruskin says " The two 
pictures which I would last part with out of it ( the National Gallery) 
would be Titian's Bacchus and Correggio's Venus." 



Ariadne a red scarf, and to one of the Bacchante a 
Httle blue drapery.^ 

The hght of the picture, as I observed, ought to be 
of a warm color, for though white may be used for 
the principal light, as was the practice of many of the 
Dutch and Flemish painters, yet it is better to sup- 
pose that white illumined by the yellow rays of the 
setting sun, as was the manner of Titian. The supe- 
riority of which manner is never more striking than 
when in a collection of pictures we chance to see a 
portrait of Titian's hanging by the side of a Flemish 
picture (even though that should be by the hand of 
Van Dyck), which, however admirable in other re- 
spects, becomes cold and grey in the comparison. 

The illuminated parts of objects are in nature of a 
warmer tint than those that are in the shade; what I 
have recommended, therefore, is no more than that 
the same conduct be observed in the whole which 
is acknowledged to be necessary in every individual 
part. It is presenting to the eye the same effect as 
that which it has been accustomed to feel, which, 
in this case, as in every other, will always produce 
beauty ; no principle, therefore, in our art can be 
more certain, or is derived from a higher source. 

What I just now mentioned of the supposed reason 
why Ariadne has part of her drapery red gives me 
occasion here to observe that this favorite quality of 
giving objects relief, and which De Piles and all the 

^ Diogenes refuted the Sopliist, who proved to him dialectically 
that he could not walk, by getting up and walking round his tub ; 
Gainsborough refuted Kevnolds, who argued that blue cannot be the 
dominant color in a picture, by pamting his masterpiece, " The 
Blue Boy." 


critics have considered as a requisite of the utmost 
importance, was not one of those objects which much 
engaged the attention of Titian ; painters of an in- 
ferior rank have far exceeded him in producing this 
efifect. This was a great object of attention when art 
was in its infant state, as it is at present with the vul- 
gar and ignorant, who feel the highest satisfaction in 
seeing a figure, which, as they say, looks as if they 
could walk round it. But however low I may rate 
this pleasure of deception, I should not oppose it, did 
it not oppose itself to a quality of a much higher kind, 
by counteracting entirely that fulness of manner which 
is so difficult to express in words, but which is found 
in perfection in the best works of Correggio, and we 
may add, of Rembrandt. This efifect is produced by 
melting and losing the shadows in a ground still 
darker than those shadows ; whereas that relief is 
produced by opposing and separating the ground 
from the figure, either by light, or shadow, or color. 
This conduct of in-laying, as it may be called, figures 
on their ground in order to produce relief, was the 
practice of the old painters, — such as Andrea Man- 
tegna, Pietro Perugino, and Albert Durer; and to 
these we may add the first manner of Leonardo da 
Vinci, Giorgione, and even Correggio ; but these three 
were among the first who began to correct themselves 
in dryness of style, by no longer considering relief as 
a principal object. As those two qualities, relief, and 
fulness of efi"ect, can hardly exist together, it is not 
very difficult to determine to which we ought to give 
the preference. An artist is obliged forever to hold 
a balance in his hand, by which he must determine 


the value of different qualities, that, when sonic fault 
must be committed, he may choose the least. Those 
painters who have best understood the art of produc- 
ing a good effect have adopted one principle that 
seems perfectly conformable to reason, — that a part 
may be sacrificed for the good of the whole. Thus, 
whether the masses consist of light or shadow, it is 
necessary that they should be compact and of a 
pleasing shape; to this end some parts may be made 
darker, and some lighter, and reflections stronger than 
nature would warrant. Paul Veronese took great lib- 
erties of this kind. It is said that, being once asked 
why certain figures were painted in shade, as no cause 
was seen in the picture itself, he turned off the in- 
quiry by answering, " JJjia fmevola cJie passa," — "A 
cloud is passing which has overshadowed them." 

But I cannot give a better instance of this practice 
than a picture which I have of Rubens ; it is a repre- 
sentation of a moonlight. Rubens has not only dif- 
fused more light over the picture than is in nature, 
but has bestowed on it those warm, glowing colors 
by which his works are so much distinguished. It is 
so unlike what any other painters have given us of 
moonlight that it might be easily mistaken, if he had 
not likewise added stars, for a fainter setting sun. 
Rubens thought the eye ought to be satisfied in this 
case above all other considerations; he might, in- 
deed, have made it more natural, but it would have 
been at the expense of what he thought of much 
greater consequence, — the harmony proceeding from 
the contrast and variety of colors. 

This same picture will furnish us with another in- 


stance where we must depart from nature for a 
greater advantage. The moon in this picture does 
not preserve so great a superiority in regard to its 
lightness over the subject which it illumines as it does 
in nature ; this is likewise an intended deviation, and 
for the same reason. If Rubens had preserved the 
same scale of gradation of light between the moon 
and the objects which is found in nature, the picture 
must have consisted of one small spot of light only, 
and at a little distance from the picture nothing but 
this spot would have been seen. It may be said, in- 
deed, that, this being the case, it is a subject that 
ought not to be painted ; but then, for the same rea- 
son, neither armor, nor anything shining, ought ever 
to be painted ; for though pure white is used in order 
to represent the greatest light of shining objects, it 
will not in the picture preserve the same superiority 
over flesh as it has in nature, without keeping that 
flesh color of a very low tint. Rembrandt, who 
thought it of more consequence to paint light than 
the objects that are seen by it, has done this in a pict- 
ure of Achilles which I have. The head is kept down 
to a very low tint in order to preserve this due grada- 
tion and distinction between the armor and the face ; 
the consequence of which is that, upon the whole, the 
picture is too black. Surely too much is sacrificed 
here to this narrow conception of nature ; allowing 
the contrary conduct a fault, yet it must be acknowl- 
edged a less fault than making a picture so dark that 
it cannot be seen without a peculiar light, and then 
with difficulty. The merit or demerit of the dift"erent 
conduct of Rubens and Rembrandt in those instances 


whicli 1 have given, is not to be determined by the 
narrow principles of nature, separated from its effect 
on the human mind. Reason and common-sense tell 
us that before and above all other considerations it 
is necessary that the work should be seen, not only 
without difficulty or inconvenience, but with pleasure 
and satisfaction ; and every obstacle which stands in 
the way of this pleasure and convenience must be 

The tendency of this Discourse, w'ith the instances 
which have been given, is not so much to place the 
artist above rules, as to teach him their reason ; to 
prevent him from entertaining a narrow, confined 
conception of art; to clear his mind from a per- 
plexed variety of rules and their exceptions, by di- 
recting his attention to an intimate acquaintance with 
the passions and affections of the mind, from which 
all rules arise, and to which they are all referable. 
Art effects its purpose by their means ; an accurate 
knowledge, therefore, of those passions and disposi- 
tions of the mind is necessary to him who desires to 
affect them upon sure and solid principles. 

A complete essay or inquiry into the connection 
between the rules of art and the eternal and immuta- 
ble dispositions of our passions would be indeed go- 
ing at once to the foundation of criticism ; ^ but I am 
too well convinced what extensive knowledge, what 
subtle and penetrating judgment, would be required 
to engage in such an undertaking; it is enough for 
me if, in the language of painters, I have produced 

1 This was inadvertently said. T did not recollect the admirable 
treatise on " The Sublime and Heautiful." — R. 


a slight sketch of a part of this vast composition, but 
that sufficiently distinct to show the usefulness of 
such a theory, and its practicability. 

Before I conclude, I cannot avoid making one ob- 
servation on the pictures now before us. I have 
observed that every candidate has copied the cele- 
brated invention of Timanthes in hiding the face of 
Agamemnon in his mantle ; indeed, such lavish en- 
comiums have been bestowed on this thought, and 
that too by men of the highest character in critical 
knowledge, — Cicero, Quintilian, Valerius, Maximus, 
and Pliny, — and have been since re-echoed by almost 
every modern that has written on the arts, that your 
adopting it can neither be wondered at nor blamed. 
It appears now to be so much connected with the 
subject, that the spectator would perhaps be disap- 
pointed in not finding united in the picture what he 
always united in his mind, and considered as indis- 
pensably belonging to the subject. But it may be 
observed that those who praise this circumstance 
were not painters. They use it as an illustration 
only of their own art; it served their purpose, and 
it was certainly not their business to enter into the 
objections that lie against it in another art. I fear 
we have but very scanty means of exciting those 
powers over the imagination which make so very 
considerable and refined a part of poetry. It is a 
doubt with me whether we should even make the 
attempt. The chief, if not the only occasion, which 
the painter has for this artifice is when the subject 
is improper to be more fully represented, either for 
the sake of decency, or to avoid what would be dis- 


agreeable to be seen ; and this is not to raise or in- 
crease the passions, which is the reason that is given 
for this practice, but, on the contrary, to diminish 
their effect. 

It is true, sketches, or such drawings as painters 
generally make for their works, give this pleasure of 
imagination to a high degree. From a slight, unde- 
termined drawing, where the ideas of the composi- 
tion and character are, as I may say, only just 
touched upon, the imagination supplies more than 
the painter himself, probably, could produce ; and 
we accordingly often find that the finished work dis- 
appoints the expectation that was raised from the 
sketch ; and this power of the imagination is one of 
the causes of the great pleasure we have in viewing 
a collection of drawings by great painters. These 
general ideas which are expressed in sketches, cor- 
respond very well to the art often used in poetry. 
A great part of the beauty of the celebrated de- 
scription of Eve in Milton's " Paradise Lost " consists 
in using only general, indistinct expressions, every 
reader making out the detail according to his own par- 
ticular imagination, — his own idea of beauty, grace, 
expression, dignity, or loveliness; but a painter, when 
he represents Eve on a canvas, is obliged to give a 
determined form, and his own idea of beauty dis- 
tinctly expressed. 

We cannot on this occasion, nor indeed on any 
other, recommend an indeterminate manner or vague 
ideas of any kind, in a complete and finished picture. 
This notion, therefore, of leaving anything to the im- 
agination, opposes a vcr\- fixed and indispensable 


rule in our art — that everything shall be carefully 
and distinctly expressed, as if the painter knew, with 
correctness and precision, the exact form and char- 
acter of whatever is introduced into the picture. This 
is what with us is called science and learning; which 
must not be sacrificed and given up for an uncertain 
and doubtful beauty, which, not naturally belonging 
to our art, will probably be sought for without 

Mr. Falconet has observed, in a note on this pas- 
sage in his translation of Pliny that the circumstance 
of covering the face of Agamemnon was probably 
not in consequence of any fine imagination of the 
painter — which he considers as a discovery of the 
critics, — but merely copied from the description of 
the sacrifice, as it is found in Euripides. 

The words from which the picture is supposed to 
be taken are these: "Agamemnon saw Iphigenia 
advance towards the fatal altar; he groaned, he 
turned aside his head, he shed tears, and covered his 
face with his robe." 

Falconet does not at all acquiesce in the praise 
that is bestowed on Timanthes ; not only because it 
is not his invention, but because he thinks meanly of 
this trick of concealing, except in instances of blood, 
where the objects would be too horrible to be seen ; 
but, says he, " in an afflicted father, in a king, in 
Agamemnon, you, who are a painter, conceal from 
me the most interesting circumstances, and then put 
me off with sophistry and a veil. You are [he adds] 
a feeble painter, without resource; you do not know 
even those of your art. I care not what veil it is, 


whether closed hands, arms raised, or any other 
action that conceals from me the countenance of 
the hero. You think of veiling Agamemnon ; you 
have unveiled your own ignorance. A painter who 
represents Agamemnon veiled is as ridiculous as a 
poet would be who, in a pathetic situation, in order 
to satisfy my expectations and rid himself of the 
business, should say that the sentiments of his hero 
are so far above whatever can be said on the occa- 
sion, that he shall say nothing." ^ 

To what Falconet has said, we may add that, sup- 
posing this method of leaving the expression of grief 
to the imagination to be, as it was thought to be, the 
invention of the painter, and that it deserves all the 
praise that has been given it, still it is a trick that 
will serve but once ; whoever does it a second time 
will not only want novelty, but be justly suspected of 
using artifice to evade difficulties. If difficulties over- 
come make a great part of the merit of art, difficul- 
ties evaded can deserve but little commendation. 

1 An acuter critic savs : " Rut Timanthes knew the limits within 
which the Graces had confined his art. He knew that the grief which 
liecame Agamemnon, as a father, must have been e.xpressed by con- 
tortions, at all times ugly ; but so far as dignity and beauty could be 
combined with the expression of such a feeling, so far he pushed it. 
True, he would fain have passed over the ugly, fain have softened it ; 
but since his piece did not admit either of its omission or diminution, 
what was left him but its concealment ? He left to conjecture what 
he might not paint. In short, this concealment is a sacrifice which 
the artist made to beauty, and is an instance, not how expression may 
exceed the capacity of art, but how it should be subjected to art's 
first law, the law of beauty." — Lessing, The Laocobn, chap. ii. 

Sir Joseph Banks. 


Delivered at the Opening of the Royal Academy, in Somerset 
Place, October i6, 1780. 


The honor which the arts acquire by being- per- 
mitted to take possession of this noble habitation is 
one of the most considerable of the many instances 
we have received of his Majesty's protection, and the 
strongest proof of his desire to make the Academy 

Nothing has been left undone that might contrib- 
ute to excite our pursuit or to reward our attain- 
ments. We have already the happiness of seeing 
the arts in a state to which they never before arrived 
in this nation. This building, in which we are now 
assembled, will remain to many future ages an 
illustrious specimen of the architect's^ abilities. It 
is our duty to endeavor that those who gaze with 
wonder at the structure may not be disappointed 
when they visit the apartments. It will be no small 
addition to the glory which this nation has already 
acquired from having given birth to eminent men in 
every part of science, if it should be enabled to pro- 

1 Sir William Chambers. 


duce, in consequence of this institution, a school of 
Enghsh artists. The estimation in which we stand 
in respect to our neighbors, will be in proportion to 
the degree in which we excel or are inferior to them 
in the acquisition of intellectual excellence, of which 
trade and its consequential riches must be acknowl- 
edged to give the means ; but a people whose whole 
attention is absorbed in those means, and who forget 
the end, can aspire but little above the rank of a 
barbarous nation. Every establishment that tends 
to the cultivation of the pleasures of the mind, as 
distinct from those of sense, may be considered as an 
inferior school of morality, v/here the mind is pol- 
ished and prepared for higher attainments. 

Let us for a moment take a short survey of the 
progress of the mind towards what is, or ought to 
be, its true object of attention. Man, in his lowest 
state, has no pleasures but those of sense, and no 
wants but those of appetite ; afterwards, when society 
is divided into different ranks, and some are ap- 
pointed to labor for the support of others, those 
whom their superiority sets free from labor begin to 
look for intellectual entertainments. Thus, while the 
shepherds were attending their flocks, their masters 
made the first astronomical observations ; so music 
is said to have had its origin from a man at leisure 
listening to the strokes of a hammer. 

As the senses, in the lowest state of nature, are 
necessary to direct us to our support, when that sup- 
port is once secure there is danger in following them 
further; to him who has no rule of action but the 
gratification of the senses, plenty is always danger- 


ous ; it is therefore necessary to tlie happiness of in- 
dividuals, and still more necessary to the security of 
society, that the mind should be elevated to the idea 
of general beauty, and the contemplation of general 
truth ; by this pursuit the mind is always carried for- 
ward in search of something more excellent than it 
finds, and obtains its proper superiority over the 
common senses of life, by learning to feel itself capa- 
ble of higher aims and nobler enjoyments. In this 
gradual exaltation of human nature every art con- 
tributes its contingent towards the general supply of 
mental pleasure. Whatever abstracts the thoughts 
from sensual gratifications, whatever teaches us to 
look for happiness within ourselves, must advance in 
some measure the dignity of our nature. 

Perhaps there is no higher proof of the excellence 
of man than this : that to a mind properly cultivated, 
whatever is bounded is little. The mind is continu- 
ally laboring to advance, step by step, through suc- 
cessive gradations of excellence, towards perfection, 
which is dimly seen at a great, though not hopeless, 
distance, and which we must always follow because 
we never can attain; but the pursuit rewards itself; 
one truth teaches another, and our store is always 
increasing, though nature can never be exhausted. 
Our art, like all arts which address the imagination, 
is applied to a somewhat lower faculty of the mind, 
which approaches nearer to sensuality; but through 
sense and fancy it must make its way to reason ; for 
such is the progress of thought that we perceive by 
sense, we combine by fancy, and distinguish by rea- 
son ; and without carrying our art out of its natural 


and true character, the more we purify it from every- 
thing that is gross in sense, in that proportion we 
advance its use and dignity ; and in proportion as 
we lower it to mere sensuality, we pervert its nature, 
and degrade it from the rank of a liberal art ; and 
this is what ev^ery artist ought well to remember. 
Let him remember also that he deserves just so 
much encouragement in the State as he makes him- 
self a member of it virtuously useful, and contributes 
in his sphere to the general purpose and perfection 
of society. 

The art which we profess has beauty for its object ; 
this it is our business to discover and to express. 
The beauty of which we are in quest is general and 
intellectual ; it is an idea that subsists only in the 
mind ; the sight never beheld it, nor has the hand 
expressed it; it is an idea residing in the breast of 
the artist, which he is always laboring to impart, and 
which he dies at last without imparting; but which 
he is yet so far able to communicate as to raise the 
thoughts and extend the views of the spectator ; and 
which, by a succession of art, may be so far diffused 
that its effects may extend themselves imperceptibly 
into public benefits, and be among the means of be- 
stowing on whole nations refinement of taste ; which, 
if it does not lead directly to purity of manners, ob- 
viates at least their greatest depravation, by disen- 
tangling the mind from appetite, and conducting the 
thoughts through successive stages of excellence, till 
that contemplation of universal rectitude and har- 
mony which began by taste, may, as it is exalted and 
refined, conclude in virtue. 

5^7//// Aones. 


Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distri- 
butioti of the Prizes, December 1 1, 1780. 


I SHALL now, as it has been customary on this day, 
and on this occasion, communicate to you such ob- 
servations as have occurred to me on the theory of 

If these observations have hitherto referred princi- 
pally to painting, let it be remembered that this art 
is much more extensive and complicated than sculp- 
ture, and affords, therefore, a more ample field for 
criticism ; and as the greater includes the less, the 
leading principles of sculpture are comprised in those 
of painting. 

However, I wish now to make some remarks with 
particular relation to sculpture ; to consider wherein 
or in what manner its principles and those of paint- 
ing agree or differ; what is within its power of per- 
forming, and what it is vain or improper to attempt, 
that it may be clearly and distinctly known what ought 
to be the great purpose of the sculptor's labors. 

Sculpture is an art of much more simplicity and 
uniformity than painting; it cannot with propriety, 



and the best efifect, be applied to many subjects. 
The object of its pursuit ma}' be comprised in two 
words, — Form and Character; and those qualities 
are presented to us but in one manner, or in one 
style only; whereas the powers of painting, as they 
are more various and extensive, so they are exhibited 
in as great a variety of manners. The Roman, Lom- 
bard, Florentine, Venetian, and Flemish schools all 
pursue the same end by different means. But sculp- 
ture having but one style, can only to one style of 
painting have any relation ; and to this (which is in- 
deed the highest and most dignified that painting 
can boast) it has a relation so close that it may be 
said to be almost the same art operating upon differ- 
ent materials. The sculptors of the last age, from 
not attending sufficiently to this discrimination of the 
different styles of painting, have been led into many 
errors. Though they well knew that they were al- 
lowed to imitate or take ideas for the improvement of 
their own art from the grand style of painting, they 
were not aware that it was not permitted to borrow in 
the same manner from the ornamental. When they 
endeavor to copy the picturesque effects, contrasts, 
or petty excellences of whatever kind, which not im- 
properly find a place in the inferior branches of paint- 
ing, they doubtless imagine themselves improving and 
extending the boundaries of their art by this imita- 
tion ; but they are in reality violating its essential 
character by giving a different direction to its opera- 
tions, and proposing to themselves either what is un- 
attainable, or at best a meaner object of pursuit. The 
grave and austere character of sculpture requires the 


utmost degree of formality in composition; pictur- 
esque contrasts have here no place ; everything is 
carefully weighed and measured, one side making 
almost an exact equipoise to the other; a child is 
not a proper balance to a full-grown figure, nor is a 
figure sitting or stooping a companion to an upright 

The excellence of every art must consist in the 
complete accomplishment of its purpose ; and if by 
a false imitation of nature, or mean ambition of pro- 
ducing a picturesque effect or illusion of any kind, all 
the grandeur of ideas which this art endeavors to ex- 
cite be degraded or destroyed, we may boldly oppose 
ourselves to any such innovation. If the producing 
of a deception is the summit of this art, let us at once 
give to statues the addition of color, which will con- 
tribute more towards accomplishing this end than all 
those artifices which hav^e been introduced and pro- 
fessedly defended, on no other principle but that of 
rendering the work more natural. But as color is 
universally rejected, every practice liable to the same 
objection must fall with it. If the business of sculp- 
ture were to administer pleasure to ignorance, or a 
mere entertainment to the senses, the Venus de Medi- 
cis might certainly receive much improvement by 
color; but the character of sculpture makes it her 
duty to afford delight of a different, and, perhaps, of 
a higher kind, the delight resulting from the contem- 
plation of perfect beauty; and this, which is in truth 
an intellectual pleasure, is in many respects incom- 
patible with what is merely addressed to the senses, 
such as that with which ignorance and levit)' contem- 
plate elegance of form. 


The sculptor may be safely allowed to practise 
every means within the power of his art to produce 
a deception, provided this practice does not interfere 
with or destroy higher excellences ; on these condi- 
tions he will be forced, however loath, to acknowledge 
that the boundaries of his art have long been fixed, 
and that all endeavors will be vain that hope to 
pass beyond the best works which remain of ancient 

Imitation is the means, and not the end of art. It 
is employed by the sculptor as the language by which 
his ideas are presented to the mind of the spectator. 
Poetry and elocution of every sort make use of signs, 
but those signs are arbitrary and conventional. The 
sculptor employs the representation of the thing itself; 
but still as a means to a higher end, — as a gradual 
ascent, always advancing towards faultless form and 
perfect beauty. It may be thought at the first view 
that even this form, however perfectly represented, is 
to be valued and take its rank only for the sake of a 
still higher object, — that of conveying sentiment and 
character, as they are exhibited by attitude and ex- 
pression of the passions. But we are sure from ex- 
perience that the beauty of form alone, without the 
assistance of any other quality, makes of itself a great 
work, and justly claims our esteem and admiration. 
As a proof of the high value we set on the mere ex- 
cellence of form, we may adduce the greatest part of 
the works of Michael Angelo, both in painting and 
sculpture, as well as most of the antique statues, which 
are justl}^ esteemed in a very high degree, though no 
very marked or striking character or expression of 
any kind is represented. 


But, as a stronger instance that this excellence 
alone inspires sentiment, what artist ever looked at 
the " Torso " without feeling a warmth of enthusiasm, 
as from the highest efforts of poetry ? From whence 
does this proceed ? What is there in this fragment 
that produces this effect, but the perfection of this 
science of abstract form ? 

A mind elevated to the contemplation of excel- 
lence perceives in this defaced and shattered frag- 
ment disjecta membra poetce, the traces of superlative 
genius, the relics of a work on which succeeding ages 
can only gaze with inadequate admiration. 

It may be said that this pleasure is reserved only 
to those who have spent their whole life in the study 
and contemplation of this art ; but the truth is that all 
would feel its effects if they could divest themselves 
of the expectation of deception, and look only for 
what it really is — a partial, representation of nature. 
The only impediment of their judgment must then 
proceed from their being uncertain to what rank, or 
rather, kind of excellence, it aspires, and to what 
sort of approbation it has a right. This state of 
darkness is, without doubt, irksome to every mind ; 
but by attention to works of this kind the knowledge 
of what is aimed at comes of itself, without being 
taught, and almost without being perceived. 

The sculptor's art is limited in comparison with 
others, but it has its variety and intricacy within its 
proper bounds. Its essence is correctness; and 
when to correct and perfect form is added the or- 
nament of grace, dignity of character, and appro- 
priate expression, as in the "Apollo," the "Venus," 


the " Laocoon," the " Moses " of Michael Angelo, and 
many others, this art may be said to have accom- 
pHshed its purpose. 

What grace is, how it is to be acquired or con- 
ceived, are in speculation difficult questions; but 
ca^/sa latet, res est notissinia ; without any perplex- 
ing inquiry, the effect is hourly perceived. I shall 
only observe that its natural foundation is correct- 
ness of design ; and though grace may be sometimes 
united with incorrectness, it cannot proceed from it. 

But to come nearer to our present subject. It has 
been said that the grace of the "Apollo " depends on 
a certain degree of incorrectness; that the head is 
not anatomically placed between the shoulders ; and 
that the lower half of the figure is longer than just 
proportion allows. 

I know that Correggio and Parmegiano are often 
produced as authorities to support this opinion ; but 
very little attention will convince us that the incor- 
rectness of some parts which we find in their works 
does not contribute to grace, but rather tends to 
destroy it. The Madonna, with the sleeping infant 
and beautiful group of angels, by Parmegiano, in the 
Palazzo Pitti, would not have lost any of its excel- 
lence if the neck, fingers, and, indeed, the whole 
figure of the Virgin, instead of being so very long 
and incorrect, had preserved their due proportion. 

In opposition to the first of these remarks, I have 
the authority of a very able sculptor of this Academy 
who has copied that figure, and consequently meas- 
ured and carefully examined it, to declare that the 
criticism is not true. In recrard to the last, it must 


be remembered that Apollo is here in the exertion 
of one of his peculiar powers, which is swiftness; 
he has therefore that proportion which is best 
adapted to that character. This is no more incor- 
rectness than when there is given to a Hercules an 
extraordinary swelling and strength of muscles. 

The art of discovering and expressing grace is 
difficult enough of itself, without perplexing ourselves 
with what is incomprehensible. A supposition of 
such a monster as Grace, begot by Deformity, is 
poison to the mind of a young artist, and may make 
him neglect what is essential to his art — correctness 
of design — in order to pursue a phantom, which has 
no existence but in the imagination of affected and 
refined speculators. 

I cannot quit the "Apollo " without making one ob- 
servation on the character of this figure. He is sup- 
posed to have just discharged his arrow at the 
python ; and, by the head retreating a little towards 
the right shoulder, he appears attentive to its effect. 
What I would remark is the difference of this atten- 
tion from that of the " Discobolus," who is engaged 
in the same purpose, watching the effect of his discus. 
The graceful, negligent, though animated air of the 
one, and the vulgar eagerness of the otlier, furnish 
a signal instance of the judgment of the ancient 
sculptors in their nice discrimination of character. 
They are both equally true to nature, and equally 

It may be remarked that grace, character, and ex- 
pression, though words of different sense and mean- 
ing, and so understood when applied to the works 


of painters, are indiscriminately used when we speak 
of sculpture. This indecision we may suspect to 
proceed from the undetermined effects of the art 
itself; those qualities are exhibited in sculpture 
rather by form and attitude than by the features, 
and can therefore be expressed but in a very general 

Though the Ivaocoon and his two sons have more 
expression in the countenance than perhaps any 
other antique statues, yet it is only the general ex- 
pression of pain; and this passion is still more 
strongly expressed by the writhing and contortion 
of the body than by the features.^ 

It has been observed in a late publication, that if 
the attention of the father in this group had been 
occupied more by the distress of his children than 
by his own sufferings, it would have raised a much 
greater interest in the spectator. Though this ob- 
servation comes from a person whose opinion in 
everything relating to the arts carries with it the 
highest authority, yet I cannot but suspect that such 
refined expression is scarce within the province of 
this art ; and in attempting it the artist will run great 

^ This great work is finely characterized by Byron : — 

Or, turning to the Vatican, go see 
Laocoon's torture dignifying pain — 
A father's love and mortal's agony 
With an immortal's patience blending : — Vain 
The struggle ; vain, against the coiling strain 
And gripe, and deepening of the dragon's grasp, 
The old man's clench ; the long envenom'd chain 
Rivets the living links, — the enormous asp 
Enforces pang on pang, and stifles gasp on gasp. 

Childe Harold. 


risk of enfeebling expression, and making it less 
intelligible to the spectator. 

As the general figure presents itself in a more 
conspicuous manner than the features, it is there we 
must principally look for expression or character; 
patuit in corpore vu/tns ; and in this respect, the 
sculptor's art is not unlike that of dancing, where the 
attention of the spectator is principally engaged by the 
attitude and action of the performer, and it is there he 
must look for whatever expression that art is capable 
of exhibiting. The dancers themselves acknowledge 
this, by often wearing masks with little diminution in 
the expression. The face bears so very inconsider- 
able a proportion to the effect of the whole figure that 
the ancient sculptors neglected to animate the feat- 
ures, even with the general expression of the passions. 
Of this the group of the " Boxers " is a remarkable 
instance; they are engaged in the most animated 
action with the greatest serenity of countenance. 
This is not recommended for imitation (for there can 
be no reason why the countenance should not cor- 
respond with the attitude and expression of the 
figure), but is mentioned in order to infer from 
hence that this frequent deficiency in ancient sculp- 
ture could proceed from nothing but a habit of in- 
attention to what was considered as comparatively 

Those who think sculpture can express more than 
we have allowed may ask by what means we dis- 
cover, at the first glance, the character that is repre- 
sented in a bust, cameo, or intaglio. I suspect it 
will be found, on close examination, bv him who is 


resolved not to see more than he really does see, 
that the figures are distinguished by their insignia 
more than by any variety of form or beauty. Take 
from Apollo his lyre, from Bacchus his thyrsus and 
vine-leaves, and from Meleager the boar's head, and 
there will remain little or no difference in their char- 
acters. In a Juno, Minerva, or Flora, the idea of the 
artist seems to have gone no further than represent- 
ing perfect beauty, and afterwards adding the proper 
attributes, with a total indifference to which they gave 
them. Thus John de Bologna, after he had finished 
a group of a young man holding up a young woman 
in his arms, with an old man at his feet, called his 
friends together, to tell him what name he should give 
it, and it was agreed to call it " The Rape of the 
Sabines;" and this is the celebrated group which 
now stands before the Palazzo Vecchio at Florence.^ 
The figures have the same general expression which 
is to be found in most of the antique sculpture ; and 
yet it would be no wonder if future critics should find 
out delicacy of expression which was never intended, 
and go so far as to see, in the old man's countenance, 
the exact relation which he bore to the woman who 
appears to be taken from him. 

Though painting and sculpture are, like many 
other arts, governed by the same general principles, 
yet in the detail, or what may be called the by-laws 
of each art, there seems to be no longer any connec- 
tion between them. The different materials upon 
which those two arts exert their powers must infalli- 
bly create a proportional difference in their practice. 

1 In the Loggia dei Lanzi at Florence. 


There are many petty excellences which the painter 
attains with ease, but which are impracticable in sculp- 
ture; and which, even if it could accomplish them, 
would add nothing to the true value and dignity of 
the work. 

Of the ineffectual attempts which the modern 
sculptors have made by way of improvement, these 
seem to be the principal : the practice of detaching 
drapery from the figure, in order to give the appear- 
ance of flying in the air; 

Of making different plans in the same bas- 
relievos ; 

Of attempting to represent the effects of perspec- 

To these we may add the ill effect of figures clothed 
in a modern dress. 

The folly of attempting to make stone sport and 
flutter in the air is so apparent that it carries with 
it its own reprehension ; and yet to accomplish this 
seemed to be the great ambition of many modern 
sculptors, particularly Bernini ; ^ his art was so much 
set on overcoming this difficulty that he was forever 
attempting it, though by that attempt he risked 
everything that was valuable in the art. 

Bernini stands in the first class of modern sculp- 
tors, and therefore it is the business of criticism to 
prevent the ill effects of so powerful an example. 

From his very early work of" Apollo and Daphne," 
the world justly expected he would rival the best pro- 

' Many curious attempts at impossible aerial effects, and the over 
throw of the boundaries of paintinc; and sculpture may be seen in the 
famous Campo Santo of Genoa, where the fantastic spirit of Bernini 
seems to run riot. 


ductions of ancient Greece; but he soon strayed from 
the right path. And though there is in his works 
something which ahvays distinguishes him from the 
common herd, yet he appears in his latter perform- 
ances to have lost his way. Instead of pursuing the 
study of that ideal beauty with which he had so 
successfully begun, he turned his mind to an in- 
judicious quest of novelty, attempted what was not 
within the province of the art, and endeavored to 
overcome the hardness and obstinacy of his mate- 
rials ; which even supposing he had accomplished 
so far as to make this species of drapery appear 
natural, the ill effect and confusion occasioned by 
its being detached from the figure to which it belongs 
ought to have been alone a sufficient reason to have 
deterred him from that practice. 

We have not, I think, in our Academy, any of 
Bernini's works, except a cast of the head of his 
Neptune; this will be sufficient to serve us for an 
example of the mischief produced by this 
of representing the effects of the wind. The locks 
of the hair are flying abroad in all directions, inso- 
much that it is not a superficial view that can dis- 
cover what the object is which is represented, or 
distinguish those flying locks from the features, as 
they are all of the same color, of equal solidity, and 
consequently project with equal force. 

The same entangled confusion which is here oc- 
casioned by the hair is produced by drapery flying 
off; which the eye must, for the same reason, inevi- 
tably mingle and confound with the principal parts 
of the figure. 


It is a general rule, equally true in both arts that 
the form and attitude of the figure should be seen 
clearly and without any ambiguity at the first glance 
of the eye. This the painter can easily do by color, 
by losing parts in the ground, or keeping them so 
obscure as to prevent them from interfering with the 
more principal objects. The sculptor has no other 
means of preventing this confusion than by attaching 
the drapery for the greater part close to the figure ; 
the folds of which following the order of the limbs 
whenever the drapery is seen, the eye is led to trace 
the form and attitude of the figure at the same time. 

The drapery of the Apollo, though it makes a 
large mass, and is separated from the figure, does 
not affect the present question, from the very circum- 
stance of its being so completel}' separated; and 
from the regularity and simplicity of its form, it does 
not in the least interfere with a distinct view of the 
figure. In reality, it is no more a part of it than a 
pedestal, a trunk of a tree, or an animal, which we 
often see joined to statues. 

The principal use of those appendages is to 
strengthen and preserve the statue from accidents ; 
and many are of opinion that the mantle which falls 
from the Apollo's arm is for the same end; but 
surely it answers a much greater purpose, by pre- 
venting that dryness of effect which would inevitably 
attend a naked arm, extended almost at full length, 
to which we may add the disagreeable effect which 
would proceed from the body and arm making a 
right angle. 

The Apostles, in the Church of Saint John Lateran, 


appear to me to fall under the censure of an injudicious 
imitation of the manner of the painters. The drapery 
of those figures, from being disposed in large masses, 
gives undoubtedly that air of grandeur which magni- 
tude or quantity is sure to produce. But though it 
should be acknowledged that it is managed with 
great skill and intelligence, and contrived to appear 
as light as the materials will allow, yet the weight 
and solidity of stone were not to be overcome. 

Those figures are much in the style of Carlo Ma- 
ratti, and such as we may imagine he would have 
made if he had attempted sculpture; and when we 
know he. had the superintendence of that work, and 
was an intimate friend of one of the principal sculp- 
tors, we may suspect that his taste had some influ- 
ence, if he did not even give the designs. No man 
can look at those figures without recognizing the 
manner of Carlo Maratti. They have the same de- 
fect which his works so often have, of being overlaid 
with drapery, and that too artificially disposed. I 
cannot but believe that if Ruscono, Le Gros, Monot, 
and the rest of the sculptors employed in that work, 
had taken for their guide the simple dress, such as 
we see in the antique statues of the philosophers, it 
would have given more real grandeur to their figures, 
and would certainly have been more suitable to the 
characters of the Apostles. 

Though there is no remedy for the ill effect of 
those solid projections which flying drapery in stone 
must always produce in statues, yet in bas-relievos it is 
totally different; those detached parts of drapery the 
sculptor has here as much power over as the painter, 


by uniting and losing it in the ground, so that it shall 
not in the least entangle and confuse the figure. 

But here again the sculptor, not content with this 
successful imitation, if it may be so called, proceeds 
to represent figures, or groups of figures, on different 
plans; that is, some on the foreground, and some at 
a greater distance, in the manner of painters in his- 
torical compositions. To do this he has no other 
means than by making the distant figures of less 
dimensions, and relieving them in a less degree from 
the surface ; but this is not adequate to the end ; 
they will still appear only as figures on a less scale, 
but equally near the eye with those in the front of 
the piece. 

Nor does the mischief of this attempt, which never 
accomplishes its intention, rest here; by this division 
of the work into many minute parts, the grandeur of 
its general effect is inevitably destroyed. 

Perhaps the only circumstance in which the mod- 
ern have excelled the ancient sculptors is the man- 
agement of a single group in basso-relievo, — the art 
of gradually raising the group from the flat surface, 
till it imperceptibly emerges into alto-relievo. Of 
this there is no ancient example remaining that dis- 
covers any approach to the skill which Lc Gros has 
shown in an altar in the Jesuits' Church at Rome. 
Different plans or degrees of relief in the same group 
have, as we see in this instance, a good effect, though 
the contrary happens when the groups arc separated, 
and are at some distance behind each other. 

This improvement in the art of composing a group 
in basso-relievo was probably first suggested by the 


practice of the modern painters, who reheve their 
figures, or groups of figures, from their ground, by 
the same gentle gradation ; and it is accomphshed 
in every respect by the same general principles; but 
as the marble has no color, it is the composition it- 
self that must give its light and shadow. The ancient 
sculptors could not borrow this advantage from their 
painters, for this was an art with which they appear 
to have been entirely unacquainted ; and in the bas- 
relievos of Lorenzo Ghiberti, the casts of which we 
have in the Academy, this art is no more attempted 
than it was by the painters of his age. 

The next imaginary improvement of the moderns 
is the representing the effects of perspective in bas- 
relief. Of this little need be said ; all must recollect 
how ineffectual has been the attempt of modern sculp- 
tors to turn the buildings which they have introduced 
as seen from their angle, with a view to make them 
appear to recede from the eye in perspective. This, 
though it may show indeed their eager desire to en- 
counter difificulties, shows at the same time how in- 
adequate their materials are even to this their humble 

The ancients, with great judgment, represented 
only the elevation of whatever architecture they in- 
troduced into their bas-reliefs, which is composed of 
little more than horizontal or perpendicular lines ; 
whereas the interruption of crossed lines, or whatever 
causes a multiplicity of subordinate parts, destroys 
that regularity and firmness of effect on which gran- 
deur of style so much depends. 

We come now to the last consideration ; in what 


manner statues are to be dressed, which are made in 
honor of men, cither now Hving or lately departed. 

This is a question which might employ a long dis- 
course of itself; I shall at present only observe, that 
he who wishes not to obstruct the artist, and prev^ent 
his exhibiting his abilities to their greatest advantage, 
will certainly not desire a modern dress. 

The desire of transmitting to posterity the shape of 
modern dress must be acknowledged to be purchased 
at a prodigious price, even the price of everything 
that is valuable in art. 

Working in stone is a very serious business : and 
it seems to be scarce worth while to employ such 
durable materials in conveying to posterity a fashion 
of which the longest existence scarce exceeds a 

However agreeable it may be to the antiquary's 
principles of equity and gratitude, that as he has re- 
ceived great pleasure from the contemplation of the 
fashions of dress of former ages, he wishes to give 
the same satisfaction to future antiquaries, yet, me- 
thinks, pictures of an inferior style, or prints, may be 
considered as quite sufficient, without prostituting 
this great art to such mean purposes. 

In this town may be seen an equestrian statue in 
a modern dress, which ma\' be sufficient to deter 
future artists from an}' such attempt; even suppos- 
ing no other objection, the familiarity of the modern 
dress b}- no means agrees with the dignity and grav- 
ity of sculpture. 

Sculpture is formal, regular, and austere ; disdains 
all familiar objects, as incompatible with its dignity; 


and is an enemy to every species of affectation, or 
appearance of academical art. All contrast, there- 
fore, of one figure to another, or of the limbs of a 
single figure, or even in the folds of the drapery, 
must be sparingly employed. In short, whatever 
partakes of fancy or caprice, or goes under the de- 
nomination of picturesque (however to be admired 
in its proper place), is incompatible with that sobriety 
and gravity which is peculiarly the characteristic of 
this art. 

There is no circumstance which more distinguishes 
a well-regulated and sound taste than a settled uni- 
formity of design, where all the parts are compact, 
and fitted to each other, everything being of a piece. 
This principle extends itself to all habits of life, as 
well as to all works of art. Upon this general ground, 
therefore, we may safely venture to pronounce that 
the uniformity and simplicity of the materials on 
which the sculptor labors (which are only white 
marble) prescribe bounds to his art, and teach him 
to confine himself to a proportionable simplicity of 

Mrs. Ann Hope. 


Delivered to the Sttcdents of the Royal Academy, on the Distri- 
bution of the Prizes, December lo, 1782. 


The highest ambition of every artist is to be 
thought a man of genius. As long as this flattering 
quahty is joined to his name, he can bear with pa- 
tience the imputation of carelessness, incorrectness, 
or defects of whatever kind. 

So far, indeed, is the presence of genius from im- 
plying an absence of faults, that they are considered 
by many as its inseparable companions. Some go 
such lengths as to take indication from them, and 
not only excuse faults on account of genius, but pre- 
sume genius from the existence of certain faults. 

It is certainly true that a work may justly claim 
the character of genius though full of errors ; and it 
is equally true that it may be faultless, and yet not 
exhibit the least spark of genius. This naturally 
suggests an inquiry, a desire at least of inquiring, 
what qualities of a work and of a workman ma\- justly 
entitle a painter to that character. 

I have in a former discourse^ endeavored to im- 
press you with a fixed opinion that a comprehensive 

' Discourse III. 


and critical knowledge of the works of nature is the 
only source of beauty and grandeur. But when we 
speak to painters, we must always consider this rule, 
and all rules, with a reference to the mechanical 
practice of their own particular art. It is not prop- 
erly in the learning, the taste, and the dignity of the 
ideas, that genius appears as belonging to a painter. 
There is a genius particular and appropriated to his 
own trade (as I may call it), distinguished from all 
others. For that power which enables the artist to 
conceive his subject with dignity may be said to 
belong to general education, and is as much the 
genius of a poet, or the professor of any other 
liberal art, or even a good critic in any of those 
arts, as of a painter. Whatever sublime ideas may 
fill his mind, he is a painter only as he can put in 
practice what he knows, and communicate those 
ideas by visible representation. 

If my expression can convey my idea, I wish to 
distinguish excellence of this kind by calling it the 
genius of mechanical performance. This genius con- 
sists, I conceive, in the power of expressing that 
which employs your pencil, whatever it may be, as a 
zvhole ; so that the general effect and power of the 
whole may take possession of the mind, and for a 
while suspend the consideration of the subordinate 
and particular beauties or defects. 

The advantage of this method of considering ob- 
jects is what I wish now more particularly to enforce. 
At the same time I do not forget that a painter must 
have the power of contracting as well as dilating his 
sight ; because he that does not at all express par- 


ticulars expresses nothing; yet it is certain that a 
nice discrimination of minute circumstances, and a 
punctilious dehneation of them, whatever excellence 
it may have (and I do not mean to detract from it), 
never did confer on the artist the character of genius. 

Besides those minute differences in things which 
are frequently not observed at all, and when they are, 
make little impression, there are in all considerable 
objects great characteristic distinctions, which press 
strongly on the senses, and therefore fix the imag- 
ination. These are by no means, as some persons 
think, an aggregate of all the small discriminating 
particulars; nor will such an accumulation of partic- 
ulars ever express them. These answer to what I 
have heard great lawyers call the leading points in 
a case, or the leading cases relative to those points. 

The detail of particulars, which does not assist the 
expression of the main characteristic, is worse than 
useless, it is mischievous, as it dissipates the attention, 
and draws it from the principal point.^ It may be 
remarked that the impression which is left on our 
mind, even of things which are familiar to us, is sel- 
dom more than their general effect; beyond which 
we do not look in recognizing such objects. To ex- 
press this in painting is to express what is congenial 
and natural to the mind of man, and what gives him 
by reflection his own mode of conceiving. The 

1 Protogenes introduced a partridge into his famous painting of 
lalysus, and had delineated it with so much skill that it seemed to be 
alive, and was the admiration of all Greece. Since, however, he 
found that it attracted all eyes, to the prejudice of the main figure in 
the piece, he completely effaced it — Richardso.n, Treatise on 


other presupposes nicety and research, which are only 
the business of the curious and attentive, and there- 
fore does not speak to the general sense of the whole 
species ; in which common, and as I may so call it, 
mother tongue, everything grand and comprehensive 
must be uttered. 

I do not mean to prescribe what degree of atten- 
tion ought to be paid to the minute parts; this it is 
hard to settle. We are sure that it is expressing the 
general effect of the whole, which alone can give to 
objects their true and touching character; and wher- 
ever this is observed, whatever else may be neglected, 
we acknowledge the hand of a master. We may 
even go further, and observe that when the general 
effect only is presented to us by a skilful hand, it 
appears to express the object represented in a more 
lively manner than the minutest resemblance would 

These observations may lead to very deep ques- 
tions, which I do not mean here to discuss. Among 
others, it may lead to an inquiry why we are not 
always pleased with the most absolute possible resem- 
blance of an imitation to its original object. Cases 
may exist in which such a resemblance may be even 
disagreeable. I shall only observe that the effect of 
figures in waxwork, though certainly a more exact 
representation than can be given by painting or sculp- 
ture, is a sufficient proof that the pleasure we receive 
from imitation is not increased merely in proportion 
as it approaches to minute and detailed reality; we 
are pleased, on the contrary, by seeing ends accom- 
plished by seemingly inadequate means. 


To express protuberance by actual relief, to ex- 
press the softness of flesh by the softness of wax, 
seems rude and inartificial, and creates no grateful 
surprise. But to express distances on a plain surface, 
softness by hard bodies, and particular coloring by 
materials which are not singly of that color, pro- 
duces that magic which is the prize and triumph of 

Carry this principle a step further. Suppose the 
effect of imitation to be fully compassed by means 
still more inadequate ; let the power of a few well- 
chosen strokes, which supersede labor by judgment 
and direction, produce a complete impression of all 
that the mind demands in an object; we are charmed 
with such an unexpected happiness of execution, and 
begin to be tired with the superfluous diligence which 
in vain solicits an appetite already satiated. 

The properties of all objects, as far as a painter is 
concerned with them, are the outline or drawing, the 
color, and the light and shade. The drawing gives 
the form, the color its visible quality, and the light 
and shade its solidity. _^ 

Excellence in any one of these parts of art will 
never be acquired by an artist, unless he has the habit 
of looking upon objects at large, and observing the 
effect which they have on the eye when it is dilated 
and employed upon the whole, without seeing any 
one of the parts distinctly. It is by this that we ob- 
tain the ruling characteristic, and that we learn to 
imitate it by short and dexterous methods. I do not 
mean by dexterity a trick or mechanical habit, formed 
by guess and established b\- custom, but that science 

i \ 


which, by a profound knowledge of ends and means, 
discovers the shortest and surest way to its own 

If we examine with a critical view the manner of 
those painters whom we consider as patterns, we shall 
find that their great fame does not proceed from their 
works being more highly finished than those of other 
artists, or from a more minute attention to details, 
but from that enlarged comprehension which sees 
the whole object at once, and that energy of art 
which gives its characteristic eff'ect by adequate 

Raphael and Titian are two names which stand the 
highest in our art, — one for drawing, the other for 
painting. The most considerable and the most es- 
teemed works of Raphael are the cartoons, and his 
fresccf works in the Vatican ; those, as we all know, 
are far from being minutely finished. His principal 
care and attention seems to have been fixed upon the 
adjustment of the whole, whether it was the general 
composition, or the composition of each individual 
figure; for every figure may be said to be a lesser 
whole, though, in regard to the general work to 
which it belongs, it is but a part ; the same may be 
said of the head, of the hands, and feet. Though he 
possessed this art of seeing and comprehending the 
whole, as far as form is concerned, he did not exert 
the same faculty in regard to the general effect, which 
is presented to the eye by color, and light and shade. 
Of this the deficiency of his oil pictures, where this 
excellence is more expected than in fresco, is a suffi- 
cient proof. 


It is to Titian we must turn our eyes to find excel- 
lence with regard to color, and light and shade, in 
the highest degree. He was both the first and the 
greatest master of this art. By a few strokes he 
knew how to mark the general image and character 
of whatever object he attempted; and produced, by 
this alone, a truer representation than his master 
Giovanni Bellini or any of his predecessors, who fin- 
ished every hair. His great care was to express the 
general color, to preserve the masses of light and 
shade, and to give by opposition the idea of that 
solidity which is inseparable from natural objects. 
When those are preserved, though the work should 
possess no other merit, it will have in a proper place 
its complete effect; but v/here any of these are want- 
ing, however minutely labored the picture may be in 
the detail, the wiiole will have a false and even an 
unfinished appearance, at whatever distance, or in 
whatever light, it can be shown. 

It is in vain to attend to the variation of tints if, in 
that attention, the general hue of flesh is lost; or to 
finish ever so minutely the parts if the masses are 
not observed, or the whole not well put together. 

Vasari seems to have had no great disposition to 
favor the Venetian painters, yet he everywhere justly 
commends // inodo di fare, la ifianiera, la bella practica ; 
that is, the admirable manner and practice of that 
school. On Titian, in particular, he bestows the epi- 
thets o{ giicdicioso, bello, e stupcndo. 

This manner was then new to the world, but that 
unshaken truth on which it is founded has fi.xed it as 
a model to all succeeding painters; and those who 


will examine into the artifice will find it to consist in 
the power of generalizing, and in the shortness and 
simplicity of the means employed. 

Many artists, as Vasari likewise obser\'es, have 
ignorantly imagined they are imitating the manner 
of Titian when they leave their colors rough, and 
neglect the detail ; but, not possessing the principles 
on which he wrought, they have produced what he 
calls^£'^^/zV^?/fr^, absurd, foolish pictures; for such 
will always be the consequence of affecting dexterity 
without science, without selection, and without fixed 

Raphael and Titian seem to have looked at Nature 
for different purposes ; they both had the power of 
extending their view to the whole ; but one looked 
only for the general effect as produced by form, the 
other as produced by color. 

We cannot entirely refuse to Titian the merit of 
attending to the general form of his object, as well 
as color ; but his deficiency lay, a deficiency, at least, 
when he is compared with Raphael, in not possessing 
the power like him of correcting the form of his 
model by any general idea of beauty in his own 
mind. Of this his Saint Sebastian is a particular 
instance. This figure appears to be a most exact 
representation both of the form and the color of 
the model, which he then happened to have before 
him; it has all the force of nature, and the coloring 
is flesh itself; but unluckily, the model was of a bad 
form, especially the legs. Titian has with as much 
care preserved these defects as he has imitated the 
beauty and brilliancy of the coloring. In his color- 


ing he was large and general, as in his design he was 
minute and partial; in the one he was a genius, in 
the other not much above a copyist. I do not, 
however, speak now of all his pictures ; instances 
enough may be produced in his works where those 
observations on his defects could not with any pro- 
priety be applied ; but it is in the manner or lan- 
guage, as it may be called, in which Titian and 
others of that school express themselves, that their 
chief excellence lies. This manner is in reality, in 
painting, what language is in poetry ; we are all sen- 
sible how dififerent the imagination is affected by the 
same sentiment expressed in different words, and how 
mean or how grand the same object appears when 
presented to us by different painters. Whether it 
is the human figure, an animal, or even inanimate 
objects, there is nothing, however unpromising in 
appearance, but may be raised into dignity, convey 
sentiment and produce emotion, in the hands of a 
painter of genius. What was said of Virgil, that he 
threw even filth about the ground with an air of 
dignity, may be applied to Titian ; whatever he 
touched, however naturally mean and habitually fa- 
miliar, by a kind of magic he invested with grandeur 
and importance. 

I must here observe that I am not recommending 
a neglect of the detail; indeed, it would be difficult, 
if not impossible, to prescribe certain bounds, and tell 
how far, or when, it is to be observed or neglected ; 
much must, at last, be left to the taste and judgment 
of the artist. I am well aware that a judicious detail 
will sometimes give the force of truth to the work. 


and consequently interest the spectator. I only wish 
to impress on your minds the true distinction between 
essential and subordinate powers; and to show what 
qualities in the art claim )-our chief attention, and 
what may, with the least injury to your reputation, 
be neglected. Something, perhaps, always must be 
neglected ; the lesser ought then to give way to the 
greater ; and since every work can have but a limited 
time allotted to it (for even supposing a whole life to 
be employed about one picture, it is still limited), it 
appears more reasonable to employ that time to the 
best advantage in contriving various methods of 
composing the work, — in trying different effects of 
light and shadow, and employing the labor of cor- 
rection in heightening, by a judicious adjustment 
of the parts, the effects of the whole, — than that 
the time should be taken up in minutely finishing 
those parts. 

Rut there is another kind of high finishing, which 
may safely be condemned, as it seems to counteract 
its own purpose ; that is, when the artist, to avoid 
that hardness which proceeds from the outline cutting 
against the ground, softens and blends the colors to 
excess ; this is what the ignorant call high finishing, 
but which tends to destroy the brilliancy of color, 
and the true effect of representation ; which consists 
very much in preserving the same proportion of 
sharpness and bluntness that is found in natural 
objects. This extreme softening, instead of pro- 
ducing the effect of softness, giv^es the appear- 
ance of ivory, or some other hard substance, highly 


The portraits of Cornelius Jansen appear to have 
this defect, and consequently want that suppleness 
which is the characteristic of flesh ; whereas, in the 
works of Van Dyck we find the true mixture of soft- 
ness and hardness perfectly observed. The same de- 
fect may be found in the manner of Vanderwcrf, in 
opposition to that of Tenicrs ; and such, also, we 
may add, is the manner of Raphael in his oil pic- 
tures, in comparison with that of Titian. 

The name which Raphael has so justly maintained 
as the first of painters, we may venture to say was 
not acquired by this laborious attention. His apology 
may be made by saying that it was the manner of his 
country; but if he had expressed his ideas with the 
facility and eloquence, as it may be called, of Titian, 
his works would certainly not have been less excel- 
lent ; and that praise which ages and nations have 
poured out upon him for possessing genius in the 
higher attainments of art, would have been extended 
to them all. 

Those who are not conversant in works of art are 
often surprised at the high value set by connoisseurs 
on drawings which appear careless, and in every re- 
spect unfinished ; but they are truly valuable, and 
their value arises from this, that they give the idea 
of a whole ; and this whole is often expressed by a 
dexterous facility which indicates the true power of a 
painter, even though roughly exerted, — whether it 
consists in the general composition, or the general 
form of each figure, or the turn of the attitude which 
bestows grace and elegance. All this we may see 
fully exemplified in the very skilful drawings of Par- 


megiano and Correggio. On whatever account we 
value these drawings, it is certainly not for high fin- 
ishing, or a minute attention to particulars. 

Excellence in every part and in every province of 
our art, from the highest style of history down to the 
resemblances of still life, will depend on this power 
of extending the attention at once to the whole, with- 
out which the greatest diligence is vain. 

I wish you to bear in mind that when I speak of a 
whole, I do not mean simply a whole as belonging to 
composition, but a whole with respect to the general 
style of coloring ; a whole with regard to the light 
and shade ; a whole of everything which may sepa- 
rately become the main object of a painter. 

I remember a landscape-painter in Rome who was 
known by the name of " Studio," from his patience 
in high finishing, in which he thought the whole ex- 
cellence of art consisted ; so that he once endeavored, 
as he said, to represent every individual leaf on a tree. 
This picture I never saw; but I am very sure that an 
artist who looked only at the general character of the 
species, the order of the branches and the masses of 
the foliage, would in a few minutes produce a more 
true resemblance of trees than this painter in as many 

A landscape-painter certainly ought to study ana- 
tomically (if I may use the expression) all the objects 
which he paints; but when he is to turn his studies 
to use, his skill, as a man of genius, will be displayed 
in showing the general effect, preserving the same 
degree of hardness and softness which the objects 
have in nature; for he applies himself to the imagi- 


nation, not to the curiosity, and works not for the 
virtuoso or the naturaHst, but for the common ob- 
server of life and nature. When he knows his sub- 
ject, he will know not only what to describe, but what 
to omit ; and this skill in leaving out is, in all things, 
a great part of knowledge and wisdom. 

The same excellence of manner which Titian 
displayed in history or portrait-painting is equally 
conspicuous in his landscapes, whether they are 
professedly such, or serve only as backgrounds.^ 
One of the most eminent of this latter kind is to be 
found in the picture of Saint Pietro Martire. The 
large trees which are here introduced are plainly dis- 
tinguished from each other by the different manner 
with which the branches shoot from their trunks, as 
well as by their different foliage; and the weeds in 
the foreground are varied in the same manner just as 
much as variety requires, and no more. When Al- 
garotii, speaking of this picture, praises it for the 
minute discriminations of the leaves and plants, even, 
as he sa)'s, to excite the admiration of a botanist, his 
intention was undoubtedly to give praise even at the 
expense of truth ; for he must have known that this 
is not the character of the picture. But connoisseurs 
will always find in pictures what they think they ought 
to find ; he was not aware that he was giving a descrip- 
tion injurious to the reputation of Titian. 

Such accounts may be very hurtful to young artists 

^ I have said in the chapter on symmetry in the second volume, 
that all landscape grandeur vanishes before that of Titian and Tintoret ; 
and this is true of whatever these two giants touched, — but they 
touched little. — RusKiN, Modern Paittters. 


who never have had an opportunity of seeing the 
work described ; and they may possibly conclude 
that this great artist acquired the name of the Divine 
Titian from his eminent attention to such trifling cir- 
cumstances, which in reality would not raise him above 
the level of the most ordinary painter. 

We may extend these observations even to what 
seems to have but a single, and that an individual 
object. The excellence of portrait-painting, and, we 
may add, even the likeness, the character, and coun- 
tenance, as I have observed in another place, depend 
more upon the general effect produced by the painter 
than on the exact expression of the peculiarities, or 
minute discrimination of the parts. The chief atten- 
tion of the artist is therefore employed in planting 
the features in their proper places, which so much 
contributes to giving the effect and true impression 
of the whole. The very peculiarities may be reduced 
to classes and general descriptions ; and there are 
therefore large ideas to be found even in this con- 
tracted subject. He may afterwards labor single 
features to what degree he thinks proper; but let 
him not forget continually to examine whether in 
finishing the parts he is not destroying the general 

It is certainly a thing to be wished, that all excel- 
lence were applied to illustrate subjects that are inter- 
esting and worthy of being commemorated ; whereas, 
of half the pictures that are in the world, the subject 
can be valued only as an occasion which set the artist 
to work ; and yet, our high estimation of such pic- 
tures, without considering, or perhaps without know- 


ing the subject, shows how much our attention is en- 
gaged by tlie art alone. ^ 

Perhaps nothing that we can say will so clearly 
show the advantage and excellence of this faculty as 
that it confers the character of genius on works that 
pretend to no other merit ; in which is neither ex- 
pression, character, nor dignity, and where none are 
interested in the subject. We cannot refuse the 
character of genius to the " Marriage " of Paolo Vero- 
nese without opposing the general sense of mankind 
(great authorities have called it the triumph of paint- 
ing), or to the " Altar of Saint Augustine " at Antwerp, 
by Rubens, which equally deserves that title, and for 
the same reason. Neither of those pictures have any 
interesting story to support them. That of Paolo 
Veronese is only a representation of a great con- 
course of people at a dinner; and the subject of 
Rubens, if it may be called a subject where nothing 
is doing, is an assembly of various Saints that lived 
in different ages. The whole excellence of those 
pictures consists in mechanical dexterity, working, 
however, under the influence of that comprehensive 
faculty which I have so often mentioned. 

It is by this, and this alone, that the mechanical 
power is ennobled, and raised much above its natural 
rank. And it appears to me that with propriety 
it acquires this character, as an instance of that 
superiority with which mind predominates over 

1 When the subject represented in poetry or painting is such 
as we could have no desire of seeing in the reality, then we may be 
sure that its power in poetry or painting is owing to the power of 
imitation. — Burke, Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful. 



matter, by contracting into one whole what nature 
has made muhifarious. 

The great adv^antage of this idea of a whole is that 
a greater quantity of truth may be said to be con- 
tained and expressed in a few lines or touches than 
in the most laborious finishing of the parts where 
this is not regarded. It is upon this foundation that 
it stands ; and the justness of the observation would 
be confirmed by the ignorant in art, if it were possi- 
ble to take their opinions unseduced by some false 
notion of what they imagine they ought to see in a 
picture. As it is an art, they think they ought to be 
pleased in proportion as they see that art ostenta- 
tiously displayed ; they will, from this supposition, 
prefer neatness, high-finishing, and gaudy coloring, 
to the truth, simplicity, and unity of nature. Per- 
haps, too, the totally ignorant beholder, like the 
ignorant artist, cannot comprehend a whole, nor 
even what it means. But if false notions do not an- 
ticipate their perceptions, they who are capable of 
observation, and who, pertending to no skill, look 
only straight forward, will praise and condemn in 
proportion as the painter has succeeded in the effect 
of the whole. Here, general satisfaction, or general 
dislike, though perhaps despised by the painter, as 
proceeding from the ignorance of the principles of 
art, may yet help to regulate his conduct, and bring 
back his attention to that which ought to be his 
principal object, and from which he has deviated for 
the sake of minuter beauties. 

An instance of this right judgment I once saw in a 
child, in going through a gallery where there were 


many portraits of the last ages, which, though neatly 
put out of hand, were very ill put together. The 
child paid no attention to the neat finishing or nat- 
uralness of any bit of drapery, but appeared to ob- 
serve only the ungracefulness of the persons repre- 
sented, and put herself in the posture of every figure 
which she saw in a forced and awkward attitude. 
The censure of nature, uninformed, fastened upon the 
greatest fault that could be in a picture, because it 
related to the character and management of the 

I should be sorry if what has been said should be 
understood to have any tendency to encourage that 
carelessness which leaves work in an unfinished state. 
I commend nothing for the want of exactness ; I 
mean to point out that kind of exactness which is 
the best, and which is alone truly to be esteemed. 

So far is my disquisition from giving countenance 
to idleness, that there is nothing in our art which 
enforces such continual exertion and circumspection, 
as an attention to the general effect of the whole. 
It requires much study and much practice; it re- 
quires the painter's entire mind; whereas the parts 
may be finishing by nice touches, while his mind is 
engaged on other matters ; he may even hear a play 
or a novel read without much disturbance. The 
artist who flatters his own indolence will continually 
find himself evading this active exertion, and apply- 
ing his thoughts to the ease and laziness of highly 
finishing the parts, producing at last what Cowley 
calls " laborious effects of idleness." 

No work can be too much finished, provided the 


diligence employed be directed to its proper object; 
but I have observed that an excessive labor in the 
detail has, nine times in ten, been pernicious to the 
general effect, even when it has been the labor of 
great masters. It indicates a bad choice, which is 
an ill setting out in any undertaking. 

To give a right direction to your industry has been 
my principal purpose in this discourse. It is this 
which I am confident often makes the difference 
between two students of equal capacities and of 
equal industry. While the one is employing his labor 
on minute objects of little consequence, the other is 
acquiring the art and perfecting the habit of seeing 
nature in an extensive view, in its proper proportions, 
and its due subordination of parts. 

Before I conclude, I must make one observation 
sufficiently connected with the present subject. 

The same extension of mind which gives the ex- 
cellence of genius to the theory and mechanical prac- 
tice of the art, will direct him likewise in the method 
of study, and give him the superiority over those who 
narrowly follow a more confined track of partial imi- 
tation. Whoever, in order to finish his education, 
should travel to Italy, and spend his whole time there 
only in copying pictures, and measuring statues or 
buildings (though these things are not to be neg- 
lected), would return with little improvement. He 
that imitates the Iliad, says Dr. Young, is not imitat- 
ing Homer. It is not by laying up in the memory 
the particular details of any of the great works of art 
that any man becomes a great artist, if he stops with- 
out making himself master of the general principles 


on which these works are conducted. If he even 
hopes to rival those whom he admires, he mubt con- 
sider their works as the means of teaching him the 
true art of seeing nature. When this is acquired, he 
then may be said to have appropriated their powers, 
or, at least, the foundation of their powers, to him- 
self; the rest must depend upon his own industry and 
application. The great business of study is to form 
a mind adapted and adequate to all times and all 
occasions ; to which all nature is then laid open, and 
which may be said to possess the key of her inex- 
haustible riches. 

Master Jacob Boiiverie. 

(Af/i-r-.cirds Ear I of Rmlnor, 177(1). 


Delivered to the Stjulents of the Royal Academy, on the Distri- 
bution of the Prizes, December lo, 1784. 


In consequence of the situation in which I have the 
honor to be placed in this Academy, it has often 
happened that I have been consuhed by the young 
students who intend to spend some years in Italy, 
concerning the method of regulating their studies. 
I am, as I ought to be, solicitously desirous to com- 
municate the entire result of my experience and ob- 
servation ; and though my openness and facility in 
giving my opinions might make some amends for 
whatever was defective in them, yet I fear my an- 
swers have not often given satisfaction. Indeed, I 
have never been sure that I understood perfectly 
what they meant, and was not without some suspicion 
that they had not themselves very distinct ideas of 
the object of their inquiry. 

If the information required was by what means 
the path that leads to excellence could be discov- 
ered ; if they wished to know whom they were to 
take for their guides, — what to adhere to, and what 


to avoid ; where they were to bait, and where they 
were to take up their rest; what was to be tasted 
only, and what should be their diet, — such general 
directions are certainly proper for a student to ask, 
and for me, to the best of my capacity, to give ; but 
these rules have been already given ; they have, 
in reality, been the subject of almost all my dis- 
courses from this place. But I am rather inclined to 
think, that by metJiod of study it was meant (as sev- 
eral do mean) that the times and the seasons should 
be prescribed, and the order settled, in which every- 
thing was to be done ; that it might be useful to 
point out to what degree of excellence one part of 
the art was to be carried before the student proceeded 
to the next; how long he was to continue to draw 
from the ancient statues, when to begin to compose, 
and when to apply to the study of coloring. 

Such a detail of instruction might be extended with 
a great deal of plausible and ostentatious amplifica- 
tion. But it would at best be useless. Our studies 
will be forever, in a very great degree, under the di- 
rection of chance ; like travellers, we must take what 
we can get, and when we can get it, — whether it is 
or is not administered to us in the most commodious 
manner, in the most proper place, or at the exact 
minute when we would wish to have it. 

Treatises on education and method of study have 
always appeared to me to have one general fault. 
They proceed upon a false supposition of life; as if 
we possessed not only a power over events and cir- 
cumstances, but had a greater power over ourselves 
than I believe any of us will be found to possess. In- 


stead of supposing ourselves to be perfect patterns 
of wisdom and virtue, it seems to me more reasona- 
ble to treat ourselves (as I am sure we must now and 
then treat others) like humorsome children, whose 
fancies are often to be indulged, in order to keep 
them in good humor with themselves and their pur- 
suits. It is necessary to use some artifice of this 
kind in all processes which by their very nature are 
long, tedious, and complex, in order to prevent our 
taking that aversion to our studies which the con- 
tinual shackles of methodical restraint are sure to 

I would rather wish a student, as soon as he goes 
abroad, to employ himself upon whatever he has been 
incited to by any immediate impulse, than to go slug- 
gishly about a prescribed task ; whatever he does in 
such a state of mind, little advantage accrues from it, 
as nothing sinks deep enough to leave any lasting 
impression; and it is impossible that anything should 
be well understood or well done that is taken into a 
reluctant understanding, and executed with a servile 

It is desirable, and indeed is necessary to intellect- 
ual health that the mind should be recreated and 
refreshed with a variety in our studies ; that in the 
irksomeness of uniform pursuit we should be relieved, 
and, if I may so say, deceived, as much as possible. 
Besides, the minds of men are so very differently 
constituted that it is impossible to find one method 
which shall be suitable to all. It is of no use to 
prescribe to those who have no talents ; and those 
who have talents will find methods for themselves, — 


methods dictated to them by their own particular 
dispositions, and by the experience of their own par- 
ticular necessities. 

However, I would not be understood to extend 
this doctrine to the younger students. The first part 
of the life of a student, like that of other school- 
boys, must necessarily be a life of restraint. The 
grammar, the rudiments, however unpalatable, must 
at all events be mastered. After a habit is acquired 
of drawing correctly from the model (whatever it 
may be) which he has before him, the rest, I think, 
may be safely left to chance ; always supposing that 
the student is employed, and that his studies are 
directed to the proper object. 

A passion for his art, and an eager desire to excel, 
will more than supply the place of method. By 
leaving a student to himself he may possibly indeed 
be led to undertake matters above his strength ; but 
the trial will at least have this advantage, — it will 
discover to himself his own deficiencies; and this 
discovery alone is a very considerable acquisition. 
One inconvenience, I acknowledge, may attend bold 
and arduous attempts ; frequent failure may discour- 
age ; this evil, however, is not more pernicious than 
the slow proficiency which is the natural consequence 
of too easy tasks. 

Whatever advantages method may have in de- 
spatch of business (and there it certainly has many), 
I have but little confidence of its efficacy in acquir- 
ing excellence in any art whatever. Indeed, I have 
always strongly suspected that this love of method 
on which some persons appear to place so great 


dependence, is in reality, at the bottom a love of 
idleness, a want of sufficient energy to put themselves 
into immediate action; it is a sort of an apology to 
themselves for doing nothing. I have known artists 
who may truly be said to have spent their whole 
lives, or at least the most precious part of their lives, 
in planning methods of study, without ever begin- 
ning; resolving, however, to put it all in practice at 
some time or other, — when a certain period arrives, 
when proper conveniences are procured, or when 
they remove to a certain place better calculated for 
study. It is not uncommon for such persons to go 
abroad with the most honest and sincere resolution 
of studying hard when they shall arrive at the end 
of their journey. The same want of exertion, aris- 
ing from the same cause which made them at home 
put off the day of labor until they had found a 
proper scheme for it, still continues in Italy, and 
they consequently return home with little, if any 

In the practice of art, as well as in morals, it is 
necessary to keep a watchful and jealous eye over 
ourselves ; idleness, assuming the specious disguise 
of industry, will lull to sleep all suspicion of our 
want of an active exertion of strength. A provision 
of endless apparatus, a bustle of infinite inquiry and 
research, or even the mere mechanical labor of copy- 
ing, may be employed, to evade and shuffle off real 
labor, — the real labor of thinking. 

I have declined for these reasons to point out any 
particular method and course of study to young 
artists on their arrival in Italy. I have left it to their 


own prudence, a prudence which will grow and im- 
prove upon them in the course of unremitted, ardent 
industry, directed by a real love of their profession, 
and an unfeigned admiration of those who have been 
universally admitted as patterns of excellence in 
the art. 

In the exercise of that general prudence, I shall 
here submit to their consideration such miscellaneous 
observations as have occurred to me on considering 
the mistaken notions or evil habits which have pre- 
vented that progress towards excellence which the 
natural abilities of several artists might otherwise 
have enabled them to make. 

False opinions and vicious habits hav^e done far 
more mischief to students, and to professors too, 
than any wrong methods of study. 

Under the influence of sloth, or of some mistaken 
notion, is that disposition which always wants to 
lean on other men. Some students are always talk- 
ing of the prodigious progress they should make if 
they could but have the advantage of being taught by 
some particular eminent master. To him they would 
wish to transfer that care which they ought and must 
take of themselves. Such are to be told that after 
the rudiments are past, very little of our art can be 
taught by others. The most skilful master can do 
litde more than put the end of the clue into the hands 
of his scholar, by which he must conduct himself. 

It is true, the beauties and defects of the works of 
our predecessors may be pointed out; the principles 
on which their works are conducted may be ex- 
plained ; the great examples of ancient art ma}- be 


spread out before them ; but the most sumptuous 
entertainment is prepared in vain, if the guests will 
not take the trouble of helping themselves. 

Even the Academy itself, where every conven- 
ience for study is procured and laid before them, 
may, from that very circumstance, from leaving no 
difficulties to be encountered in the pursuit, cause 
a remission of their industry. It is not uncommon 
to see young artists, while they are struggling with 
every obstacle in their way, exert themselves with 
such success as to outstrip competitors possessed 
of every means of improvement. The promising 
expectation which was formed on so much being 
done with so little means, has recommended them 
to a patron who has supplied them with every con- 
venience of study; from that time their industry and 
eagerness of pursuit has forsaken them ; they stand 
still, and see others rush on before them. 

Such men are like certain animals, who will feed 
only when there is but little provender, and that got 
at with difficulty through the bars of a rack, but 
refuse to touch it when there is an abimdance before 

Perhaps such a falling off may proceed from the 
faculties being overpowered by the immensity of the 
materials, — as the traveller despairs ever to arrive at 
the end of his journey when the whole extent of the 
road which he is to pass is at once displayed to his 

Among the first moral qualities, therefore, which 
a student ought to cultivate, is a just and manly 
confidence in himself, or rather in the effects of 


that persevering industry which he is resolved to 

When Raphael, by means of his connection with 
Bramante, the Pope's architect, was fixed upon to 
adorn the Vatican with his works, he had done noth- 
ing that marked in him any great superiority over his 
contemporaries ; though he was then but young, he 
had under his direction the most considerable artists of 
his age ; and we know what kind of men those were. 
A lesser mind would have sunk under such a weight, 
and if we should judge from the meek and gentle 
disposition which we are told was the character of 
Raphael, we might expect this would have happened 
to him ; but his strength appeared to increase in pro- 
portion as exertion was required, and it is not improb- 
able that we are indebted to the good fortune which 
first placed him in that conspicuous situation for those 
great examples of excellence which he has left us. 

The observations to which I formerly wished, and 
now desire, to point your attention, relate not to 
errors which are committed by those who have no 
claim to merit, but to those inadvertencies into which 
men of parts only can fall by the overrating or the 
abuse of some real, though perhaps subordinate, ex- 
cellence. The errors last alluded to are those of 
backward, timid characters; what I shall now speak 
of belong to another class, — to those artists who are 
distinguished for the readiness and facility of their in- 
vention. It is undoubtedly a splendid and desirable 
accomplishment to be able to design instantaneously 
any given subject. It is an excellence that I believe 
every artist would wish to possess; but unluckily, the 


manner in which this dexterity is acquired habituates 
the mind to be contented with first thoughts without 
choice or selection. The judgment, after it has been 
long passive, by degrees loses its power of becoming 
active when exertion is necessary. 

Whoever, therefore, has this talent, must in some 
measure undo what he has had the habit of doing, or 
at least give a new turn to his mind; great works, 
which are to live and stand the criticism of posterity, 
are not performed at a heat. A proportionable time is 
required for deliberation and circumspection. I re- 
member when I was at Rome looking at the " Fight- 
ing Gladiator," in company with an eminent sculptor, 
and I expressed my admiration of the skill with which 
the whole is composed, and the minute attention of 
the artist to the change of every muscle in that mo- 
mentary exertion of strength ; he was of opinion tliat 
a work so perfect required nearly the whole life of 
man to perform. 

I believe, if we look around us, we shall find that 
in the sister art of poetry what has been soon done 
has been as soon forgotten. The judgment and prac- 
tice of a great poet on this occasion is worthy at- 
tention. Metastasio, who has so much and justly 
distinguished himself throughout Europe, at his out- 
set was an improvvisatore, or extempore poet, a de- 
scription of men not uncommon in Italy. It is not 
long since he was asked by a friend if he did not 
think the custom of inventing and reciting extempore, 
which he practised when a boy in his character of an 
improvvisatore, might not be considered as a happy 
beginning of his education; he thought it, on the 


contrary, a disadvantage to him ; he said that he 
had acquired by that habit a carelessness and incor- 
rectness, which it cost him much trouble to over- 
come, and to substitute in the place of it a totally 
different habit, — that of thinking with selection, and 
of expressing himself with correctness and precision. 

However extraordinary it may appear, it is cer- 
tainly true, that the inventions of the pittori improv- 
visatori, as they may be called, have — notwithstartding 
the common boast of their authors, that all is spun 
from their own brain — very rarely anything that has 
in the least the air of originality; their compositions 
are generally commonplace, uninteresting, without 
character or expression ; like those flowery speeches 
that we sometimes hear which impress no new ideas 
on the mind. 

I would not be thought, however, by what has been 
said, to oppose the use, the advantage, the necessity 
there is, of a painter's being readily able to express 
his ideas by sketching. The further he can carry 
such designs the better. The evil to be apprehended 
is, his resting there, and not correcting them after- 
wards from nature, or taking the trouble to look about 
him for whatever assistance the works of others will 
afford him. 

We are not to suppose that when a painter sits 
down to deliberate on any work, he has all his knowl- 
edge to seek; he must not only be able to draw ex- 
tempore the human figure in every variety of action, 
but he must be acquainted likewise with the general 
principles of composition, and possess a habit of fore- 
seeing, while he is composing, the effect of the masses 


of light and shadow that will attend such a disposi- 
tion. His mind is entirely occupied by his attention 
to the whole. It is a subsequent consideration to 
determine the attitude and expression of individual 
figures. It is in this period of his work that I would 
recommend to every artist to look over his portfolio, 
or pocket-book, in which he has treasured up all the 
happy inventions, all the extraordinary and expres- 
sive attitudes that he has met with in the course of 
his studies ; not only for the sake of borrowing from 
those studies whatever may be applicable to his own 
work, but likewise on account of the great advantage 
he will receive by bringing the ideas of great artists 
more distinctly before his mind, which will teach him 
to invent other figures in a similar style. 

Sir Francis Bacon speaks with approbation of the 
provisionary methods Demosthenes and Cicero em- 
ployed to assist their invention ; and illustrates their 
use by a quaint comparison after his manner. These 
particular Studios being not immediately connected 
with our art, I need not cite the passage I allude to, 
and shall only observe that such preparation totally 
opposes the general received opinions that are float- 
ing in the world concerning genius and inspiration. 
The same great man in another place, speaking of 
his own essays, remarks that they treat of " those 
things, wherein both men's lives and persons are 
most conversant, whereof a man shall find much in 
experience, but little in books ; " they are then what 
an artist would naturall}^ call invention ; and \'ct we 
may suspect that even the genius of Bacon, great as 
it was, would never have been enabled to have made 



those observations, if his mind had not been trained 
and discipHned by reading the observations of others. 
Nor could he without such reading have known that 
those opinions were not to be found in other books. 

I know there are many artists of great fame who 
appear never to have looked out of themselves, and 
who probably would think it derogatory to their 
character to be supposed to borrow from any other 
painter. But when we recollect, and compare the 
works of such men with those who took to their 
assistance the inventions of others, we shall be con- 
vinced of the great advantage of this latter practice. 

The two men most eminent for readiness of inven- 
tion, that occur to me, are Luca Giordano and La 
Fage, — one in painting, and the other in drawing. 

To such extraordinary powers as were possessed 
by both of those artists we cannot refuse the charac- 
ter of genius ; at the same time it must be acknowl- 
edged that it was that kind of mechanic genius which 
operates without much assistance of the head. In 
all their works, which are (as might be expected) 
very numerous, we may look in vain for anything 
that can be said to be original and striking; and yet, 
according to the ordinary ideas of originality, they 
have as good pretensions as most painters ; for they 
borrowed very little from others, and still less will 
any artist that can distinguish between excellence 
and insipidity ever borrow from them. 

To those men, and all such, let us oppose the prac- 
tice of the first of painters. I suppose wc shall all agree 
that no man ever possessed a greater power of inven- 
tion, and stood less in need of foreign assistance, than 


Raphael ; and yet, when he was designing one of his 
greatest as well as latest works, the cartoons, it is 
very apparent that he had the studies which he had 
made from Masaccio ^ before him. Two noble fig- 
ures of Saint Paul, which he found there he adopted in 
his own work: one of them he took for Saint Paul 
preaching at Athens ; and the other for the same 
Saint when chastising the sorcerer Elymas. Another 
figure in the same work, whose head is sunk in his 
breast, with his eyes shut, appearing deeply wrapt up 
in thought, was introduced among the listeners to 
the preaching of Saint Paul. The most material alter- 
ation that is made in those two figures of Saint Paul is 
the addition of the left hands, which are not seen in 
the original. It is a rule that Raphael observed (and, 
indeed, ought never to be dispensed with), in a prin- 
cipal figure, to show both hands, — that it should 
never be a question what is become of the other 
hand. For the " Sacrifice at Lystra," he took the 
whole ceremony much as it stands in an ancient 
basso-relievo, since published in the " Admiranda." 
I have given examples from those pictures only of 
Raphael which we have among us, though many 
other instances might be produced of this great paint- 

^ An original genius. His frescos in the Brancacci chapel were, 
in a degree, the school of Raphael, M. Angelo, and their con- 

" In this chapel wrought 

One of the Few, Nature's interpreters ; 

The Few, whom Genius gives as lights to shine — 

Masaccio ; and he slumbers underneath. 

Wouldst thou behold his monument ? Look round. 

And know that where we stand stood oft and long, 

Oft till the day was gone. Raphael himself, 

He and his haughty rival — " Rogers. 


er's not disdaining assistance ; indeed, his known 
wealth was so great that he might borrow where he 
pleased without loss of credit. 

It may be remarked that this work of Masaccio, 
from which he has borrowed so freely, was a public 
work, and at no farther distance from Rome than 
Florence ; so that if he had considered it a disgrace- 
ful theft, he was sure to be detected ; but he was 
well satisfied that his character for invention would 
be little affected by such a discovery; nor is it, ex- 
cept in the opinion of those who are ignorant of the 
manner in which great works are built. 

Those who steal from mere poverty ; who, having 
nothing of their own, cannot exist a minute without 
making such depredations ; who are so poor that 
they have no place in which they can even deposit 
what they have taken, — to men of this description 
nothing can be said ; but such artists as those to 
whom I suppose myself now speaking, men whom I 
consider as completely provided with all the necessa- 
ries and conveniences of art, and who do not desire 
to steal baubles and common trash, but wish only to 
possess peculiar rarities which they select to orna- 
ment their cabinets, and take care to enrich the gen- 
eral store with materials of equal or of greater value 
than what they have taken, — such men surely need 
not be ashamed of that friendly intercourse which 
ought to exist among artists, of receiving from the 
dead and giving to the living, and perhaps to those 
who are yet unborn.^ 

1 The greatest is he who has been oftenest aided ; and if the 
attainments of all human minds could be traced to their real sources, 


The daily food and nourishment of the mind of an 
artist is found in the great works of his predecessors. 
There is no other way for him to become great him- 
self. " Serpens, nisi serpentem comederit non fit 
draco," ^ is a remark of a whimsical natural histor}- 
which I have read, though I do not recollect its title ; 
however false as to dragons, it is applicable enough 
to artists. 

Raphael, as appears from what has been said, had 
carefully studied the works of Masaccio ; and indeed, 
there was no other, if we except Michael Angclo 
(whom he likewise imitated), so worthy of his attention ; 
and though his manner was dry and hard, his com- 
positions formal, and not enough diversified according 
to the custom of painters in that early period, yet his 
works possess that grandeur and simplicit}' which 
accompany, and even sometimes proceed from, regu- 
larity and hardness of manner. We must consider 
the barbarous state of the arts before his time, when 
skill in drawing was so little understood that the best 
of the painters could not even foreshorten the foot, 
but every figure appeared to stand upon his toes ; 
and what served for drapery had, from the hardness 
and smallness of the folds, too much the appear- 
ance of cords clinging round the body. He first 

it would be found that the world had been laid most under contribu- 
tion by men of most original power, and that every day of their exist- 
ence deepened their debt to their race, while it enlarged their gifts 
to it. — RUSKIN. 

1 In Ben /onson's " Catiline " we find this aphorism, with a slight 
variation : — 

" A serpent, ere he comes to be a dragon, 
Must eat a bat." 


introduced large drapery flowing in an easy and 
natural manner; indeed, he appears to be the first 
who discovered the path that leads to every excel- 
lence to which the arts afterwards arrived, and may, 
therefore, be justly considered as one of the great 
Fathers of modern Art. 

Though I have been led on to a longer digression 
respecting this great painter than I intended, yet I 
cannot avoid mentioning another excellence which he 
possessed in a very eminent degree ; he was as much 
distinguished among his contemporaries for his dili- 
gence and industry as he was for the natural faculties 
of his mind. We are told that his whole attention 
was absorbed in the pursuit of his art, and that he 
acquired the name of Masaccio,^ from his total dis- 
regard to his dress, his person, and all the common 
concerns of life. He is, indeed, a single instance of 
what well-directed diligence will do in a short time. 
He lived but twenty-seven years ; yet in that short 
space carried the art so far beyond what it had be- 
fore reached, that he appears to stand alone as a 
model for his successors. Vasari gives a long cata- 
logue of painters and sculptors, who formed their 
taste, and learned their art, by studying his works ; 
among those he names Michael Angelo, Leonardo 
da Vinci, Pietro Perugino, Raphael, Bartolomeo, 
Andrea del Sarto, II Rosso, and Pierino del Vaga. 

The habit of contemplating and brooding over the 

1 " The addition of accto denotes contempt, or some deformity or 
imperfection attending the person to whom it is applied." His name 
was properly Tommaso Guido. Masaccio is equivalent to " ugly " or 
"slovenly Tom." 


ideas of great geniuses till you find yourself warmed 
by the contact is the true method of forming an 
artist-like mind; it is impossible, in the presence of 
those great men to think or invent in a mean manner; 
a state of mind is acquired that receives those ideas 
only which relish of grandeur and simplicity. 

Besides the general advantage of forming the taste 
by such an intercourse, there is another of a particular 
kind, which was suggested to me by the practice of 
Raphael, when imitating the work of which I have 
been speaking. The figure of the Proconsul, Sergius 
Paulus, is taken from the Felix of Masaccio, though 
one is a front figure, and the other seen in profile ; 
the action is likewise somewhat changed ; but it is 
plain Raphael had that figure in his mind. There 
is a circumstance indeed, which I mention by the by, 
which marks it very particularly : Sergius Paulus wears 
a crown of laurel ; this is hardly reconcilable to strict 
propriety or to the costume, of which Raphael was 
in general a good observer ; but he found it so in 
Masaccio, and he did not bestow so much pains in 
disguise as to change it. It appears to me to be an 
excellent practice thus to suppose the figures which 
you wish to adopt in the works of those great painters 
to be statues ; and to give, as Raphael has here given, 
another view, taking care to preserve all the spirit 
and grace you find in the original. 

I should hope, from what has been lately said, that 
it is not necessary to guard myself against any sup- 
position of recommending an entire dependence upon 
former masters. I do not desire that you should get 
other people to do your business, or to think for you; 


I only wish you to consult with, to call in afe coun- 
sellors, men the most distinguished for their knowl- 
edge and experience; the result of which counsel 
must ultimately depend upon yourself. Such con- 
duct in the commerce of life has never been consid- 
ered as disgraceful, or in any respect to imply 
intellectual imbecility; it is a sign, rather, of that 
true wisdom which feels individual imperfection, and 
is conscious to itself how much collective observation 
is necessary to fill the immense extent, and to com- 
prehend the infinite variety of nature. I recommend 
neither self dependence nor plagiarism. I advise you 
only to take that assistance which every human being 
wants, and which, as appears from the examples that 
have been given, the greatest painters have not dis- 
dained to accept. Let me add that the diligence 
required in the search, and the exertion subsequent 
in accommodating those ideas to your own purpose, 
is a business which idleness will not, and ignorance 
cannot, perform. But in order more distinctly to 
explain what kind of borrowing I mean when I recom- 
mend so anxiously the study of the works of great 
masters, let us, for a minute, return again to Raphael, 
consider his method of practice, and endeavor to 
imitate him in his manner of imitating others. 

The two figures of Saint Paul which I lately men- 
tioned are so nobly conceived by Masaccio that per- 
haps it was not in the power even of Raphael himself 
to raise and improve them, nor has he attempted it; 
but he has had the address to change in some meas- 
ure, without diminishing the grandeur of their char- 
acter ; he has substituted, in the place of a serene, 


composed dignity, that animated expression which 
was necessary to the more active employment he 
assigned them. 

In the same manner he has given more animation 
to the figure of Sergius Paulus, and to that which is 
introduced in the picture of Saint Paul preaching, of 
which little more than hints are given by Masaccio, 
which Raphael has finished. The closing the eyes 
of this figure, which in Masaccio might be easily mis- 
taken for sleeping, is not in the least ambiguous in 
the cartoon ; his eyes, indeed, are closed, but they 
are closed with such vehemence that the agitation of 
a mind perplexed in the extreme is seen at the first 
glance ; but what is most extraordinary, and I think 
particularly to be admired, is that the same idea is 
continued through the whole figure, even to the 
drapery, which is so closely muffied about him that 
even his hands are not seen ; by this happy cor- 
respondence between the expression of the coun- 
tenance, and the disposition of the parts, the figure 
appears to think from head to foot. Men of superior 
talents alone are capable of thus using and adapting 
other men's minds to their own purposes, or are able 
to make out and finish what was only in the original 
a hint or imperfect conception. A readiness in tak- 
ing such hints, which escape the dull and ignorant, 
makes, in my opinion, no inconsiderable part of that 
faculty of the mind which is called genius. 

It often happens that hints may be taken and em- 
ployed in a situation totally difi'crent from that in 
which they were originally employed. There is a 
figure of a Bacchante leaning backward, her head 


thrown quite behind her, which seems to be a favor- 
ite invention, as it is so frequently repeated in basso- 
rehevos, cameos, and intaglios ; it is intended to 
express an enthusiastic, frantic kind of joy. This 
figure Baccio Bandinelli, in a drawing that I have of 
that master of the " Descent from the Cross," has 
adapted (and he knew very well what was worth bor- 
rowing) for one of the Marys, to express frantic 
agony of grief. It is curious to observe, and it is cer- 
tainly true, that the extremes of contrary passions are, 
with very little variation, expressed by the same action. 
If I were to recommend method in any part of the 
study of a painter, it would be in regard to invention ; 
that young students should not presume to think 
themselves qualified to invent till they were ac- 
quainted with those stores of invention the world 
already possesses, and had by that means accumu- 
lated sufficient materials for the mind to work with. 
It would certainly be no improper method of forming 
the mind of a young artist, to begin with such ex- 
ercises as the Italians call a Pasticcio ^ composition 
of the different excellences which are dispersed in 
all other works of the same kind. It is not supposed 
that he is to stop here, but that he is to acquire by 
this means the art of selecting, first, what is truly ex- 
cellent in art, and then what is still more excellent in 
nature, — a task which without this previous study, 
he will be but ill qualified to perform. 

1 Pasticcio (Fr. Pastiche). The imitation of a work of art, in 
which the reproduction either of the work of a particular master is 
aimed at or of the details and characteristics of a school. Many 
modern pictures may best be described as pleasant pastiches of the 
ancient masters. — Adeline, Art Dictionary. 


The doctrine which is here advanced is acknowl- 
edged to be new, and to many may appear strange. 
But I only demand for it the reception of a stranger; 
a favorable and attentive consideration, without that 
entire confidence which might be claimed under 
authoritative recommendation. 

After you have taken a figure, or any idea of a 
figure, from any of those great painters, there is an- 
other operation still remaining, which I hold to be 
indispensably necessary, — that is, never to neglect 
finishing from nature every part of the work. What 
is taken from a model, though the first idea may 
have been suggested by another, you have a just 
right to consider as your own property. And here 
I cannot avoid mentioning a circumstance in placing 
the model, though to some it may appear trifling. 
It is better to possess the model with the attitude 
you require, than to place him with your own hands ; 
by this means it happens often that the model puts 
himself in an action superior to your own imagina- 
tion. It is a great matter to be in the way of acci- 
dent, and to be watchful and ready to take advantage 
of it ; besides, when you fix the position of a model 
there is danger of putting him in an attitude into 
which no man would naturally fall. This extends 
even to drapery. We must be cautious in touching 
and altering a fold of the stuff which serves as a 
model, for fear of giving it inadvertently a forced 
form ; and it is perhaps better to take the chance of 
another casual throw than to alter the position in 
which it was at first accidentally cast. 

Rembrandt, in order to take the advantage of ac- 


cident, appears often to have used the pallette-knife 
to lay his colors on the canvas, instead of the pencil. 
Whether it is the knife or any other instrument, it suf- 
fices if it is something that does not follow exactly the 
will. Accident, in the hands of an artist who knows 
how to take the advantage of its hints, will often pro- 
duce bold and capricious beauties of handling and 
facility, such as he would not have thought of, or ven- 
tured with his pencil under the regular restraint of his 
hand. However, this is fit only on occasions where 
no correctness of form is required, such as clouds, 
stumps of trees, rocks, or broken ground. Works 
produced in an accidental manner will have the 
same free, unrestrained air as the works of nature, 
whose particular combinations seem to depend upon 

I again repeat, you are never to lose sight of nature ; 
the instant you do, you are all abroad, at the mercy 
of every gust of fashion, without knowing or seeing 
the point to which you ought to steer. Whatever 
trips you make, you must still have nature in your 
eye. Such deviations as art necessarily requires I 
hope in a future discourse to be able to explain. In 
the mean time, let me recommend to you not to have 
too great dependence on your practice or memory, 
however strong those impressions may have been 
which are there deposited. They are forever wear- 
ing out, and will be at last obliterated, unless they are 
continually refreshed and repaired. 

It is not uncommon to meet with artists who, from 
a long neglect of cultivating this necessary intimacy 
with nature, do not even know her when they see 


her, — she appearing a stranger to them, from their 
being so long habituated to their own representation 
of her. I have heard painters acknowledge, though 
in that acknowledgment no degradation of themselves 
was intended, that they could do better without na- 
ture than with her; or, as they express it themselves, 
" that it only put them out." A painter with such 
ideas and such habits is indeed in a most hopeless 
state. The art of seeing nature, or, in other words, 
the art of using models, is in reality the great object, 
the point to which all our studies are directed. As 
for the power of being able to do tolerably well from 
practice alone, let it be valued according to its worth. 
But I do not see in what manner it can be sufficient 
for the production of correct, excellent, and finished 
pictures. Works deserving this character never were 
produced, nor ever will arise, from memory alone; 
and I will venture to say that an artist who brings to 
his work a mind tolerably furnished with the general 
principles of art, and a taste formed upon the works 
of good artists, — in short, who knows in what excel- 
lence consists, — will, with the assistance of models, 
which we will likewise suppose he has learned the art 
of using, be an overmatch for the greatest painter that 
ever lived who should be debarred such advantages. 

Our neighbors, the French, are much in this prac- 
tice of extempore invention, and their dexterit}'- is 
such as even to excite admiration, if not envy. But 
how rarely can this praise be given to their finished 
pictures ! 

The late Director of their Academy, Boucher, was 
eminent in this way. When I visited him some years 


since in France, I found him at work on a very large 
picture, without drawings or models of any kind. On 
my remarking this particular circumstance, he said, 
when he was young, studying his art, he found it ne- 
cessary to use models; but he had left them off for 
many years. 

Such pictures as this was, and such as I fear always 
will be produced by those who work solely from prac- 
tice or memory, may be a convincing proof of the 
necessity of the conduct which I have recommended. 
However, in justice I cannot quit this painter without 
adding that in the former part of his life, when he 
was in the habit of having recourse to nature, he was 
not without a considerable degree of merit, — enough 
to make half the painters of his country his imitators ; 
he had often grace and beauty, and good skill in com- 
position, but I think all under the influence of a bad 
taste ; his imitators are indeed abominable. 

Those artists who have quitted the service of nature 
(" whose service," when well understood, is " perfect 
freedom"), and have put themselves under the direc- 
tion of I know not what capricious fantastical mistress, 
who fascinates and overpowers their whole mind, and 
from whose dominion there are no hopes of their 
being ever reclaimed (since they appear perfectly sat- 
isfied, and not at all conscious of their forlorn situa- 
tion), like the transformed followers of Comus, — 

" Not once perceive their foul disfigurement ; 
But boast themselves more comely than before." 

Methinks such men, who have found out so short a 
path, have no reason to complain of the shortness of 


life, and the extent of art ; since life is so much longer 
than is wanted for their improvernent, or, indeed, is 
necessary for the accomplishment of their idea of per- 
fection. On the contrary, he who recurs to nature, 
at every recurrence renews his strength. The rules 
of art he is never likely to forget ; they are few and 
simple; but nature is refined, subtle, and infinitely 
various, beyond the power and retention of memory; 
it is necessary, therefore, to have continual recourse 
to her. In this intercourse there is no end of his im- 
provement; the longer he lives, the nearer he ap- 
proaches to the true and perfect idea of art. 

M/'s. Bi /lino fori as Sf. Cecil ia. 


Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the 
Distribution of the Prises, December ii, 1786. 


To discover beauties, or to point out faults in the 
works of celebrated masters, and to compare the 
conduct of one artist with another, is certainly no 
mean or inconsiderable part of criticism; but this is 
still no more than to know the art through the artist. 
This test of investigation must have two capital de- 
fects; it must be narrow, and it must be uncertain. 
To enlarge the boundaries of the art of painting, as 
well as to fix its principles, it will be necessary that 
that art and those principles should be considered 
in their correspondence with the principles of the 
other arts which, like this, address themselves pri- 
marily and principally to the imagination. When 
those connected and kindred principles are brought 
together to be compared, another comparison will 
grow out of this ; that is, the comparison of them 
all with those of human nature, from whence arts 
derive the materials upon which they are to produce 
their effects. 

When this comparison of art with art, and of all 
arts with the nature of man, is once made with 


success, our guiding lines are as well ascertained 
and established as they can be in matters of this 

This, as it is the highest style of criticism, is at the 
same time the soundest; for it refers to the eternal 
and immutable nature of things. 

You are not to imagine that 1 mean to open to you 
at large, or to recommend to your research, the whole 
of this vast field of science. It is certainly much 
above my faculties to reach it ; and though it may 
not be above yours to comprehend it fully if it were 
fully and properly brought before you, yet perhaps 
the most perfect criticism requires habits of specu- 
lation and abstraction not very consistent with the 
employment which ought to occupy, and the habits 
of mind which ought to prevail in a practical artist. 
I only point out to you these things, that when you 
do criticise (as all who work on a plan will criticise 
more or less), your criticism may be built on the 
foundation of true principles ; and that though you 
may not always travel a great way, the way that you 
do travel may be the right road. 

I observe, as a fundamental ground, common to 
all the arts with which we have any concern in this 
discourse, that they address themselves only to two 
faculties of the mind, — its imagination and its 

All theories which attempt to direct or to control 
the art upon any principles falsely called rational, 
which we form to ourselves upon a supposition of 
what ought in reason to be the end or means of art, 
independent of the known first effect produced by 


objects on the imagination, must be false and delu- 
sive. For though it may appear bold to say it, the 
imagination is here the residence of truth. If the 
imagination be affected, the conclusion is fairly 
drawn ; if it be not affected, the reasoning is erro- 
neous, because the end is not obtained, — the effect 
itself being the test, and the only test, of the truth 
and efficacy of the means. 

There is in the commerce of life, as in art, a sagacity 
which is far from being contradictory to right reason, 
and is superior to any occasional exercise of that 
faculty which supersedes it; and does not wait for the 
slow progress of deduction, but goes at once, by what 
appears a kind of intuition, to the conclusion. A man 
endowed with this faculty feels and acknowledges 
the truth, though it is not always in his power, per- 
haps, to give a reason for it; because he cannot 
recollect and bring before him all the materials that 
gave birth to his opinion ; for very many and very 
intricate considerations may unite to form the prin- 
ciple, even of small and minute parts, involved in, or 
dependent on, a great system of things; though these 
in process of time are forgotten, the right impression 
still remains fixed in his mind. 

This impression is the result of the accumulated 
experience of our whole life, and has been collected, 
we do not always know how or when. But this mass 
of collective observation, however acquired, ought 
to prevail over that reason which, however power- 
fully exerted on any particular occasion, will prob- 
ably comprehend but a partial view of the subject : 
and our conduct in life, as well as in the arts, is, or 


ought to be, generally governed by this habitual rea- 
son ; it is our happiness that we are enabled to draw 
on such funds. If we were obliged to enter into 
a theoretical deliberation on every occasion before 
we act, life would be at a stand, and art would be 

It appears to me, therefore, that our first thoughts, 
that is, the effect which anything produces on our 
minds on its first appearance, is never to be forgotten ; 
and it demands for that reason, because it is the first, 
to be laid up with care. If this be not done, the 
artist may happen to impose on himself by partial 
reasoning; by a cold consideration of those animated 
thoughts which proceed, not perhaps from caprice or 
rashness (as he may afterwards conceit), but from the 
fulness of his mind, enriched with the copious stores 
of all the various inventions which he had ever seen, 
or had ever passed in his mind. These ideas are 
infused into his design without any conscious eff"ort; 
but if he be not on his guard he may reconsider and 
correct them till the whole matter is reduced to a 
commonplace invention. 

This is sometimes the effect of what I mean to 
caution you against ; that is to say, an unfounded 
distrust of the imagination and feeling in favor of 
narrow, partial, confined, argumentative theories, and 
of principles that seem to apply to the design in 
hand, without considering those general impressions 
on the fancy in which real principles of sound reason, 
and of much more weight and importance are in- 
volved, and. as it were, lie hid under the appearance 
of a sort of vul":ar sentiment. 


Reason, without doubt, must ultimately determine 
everything; at this minute it is required to in- 
form us when that very reason is to give way to 

Though I have often spoken of that mean concep- 
tion of our art which confines it to mere imitation, 
I must add that it may be narrowed to such a mere 
matter of experiment as to exclude from it the ap- 
plication of science, which alone gives dignity and 
compass to any art. But to find proper foundations 
for science is neither to narrow nor to vulgarize it ; and 
this is sufficientl}' exemplified in the success of experi- 
mental philosophy. It is the false system of reason- 
ing, grounded on a partial view of things, against 
which I would most earnestly guard you. And I do 
it the rather, because those narrow theories, so co- 
incident with the poorest and most miserable prac- 
tices, and which are adopted to give it countenance, 
have not had their origin in the poorest minds, but 
in the mistakes, or possibly in the mistaken inter- 
pretations, of great and commanding authorities. We 
are not, therefore, in this case misled by feeling, but 
by false speculation. 

When such a man as Plato speaks of painting as 
only an imitative art, and that our pleasure proceeds 
from observing and acknowledging the truth of the 
imitation, I think he misleads us by a partial theory. 
It is in this poor, partial, and, so far, false view of the 
art, that Cardinal Bembo has chosen to distinguish 
even Raphael himself, whom our enthusiasm honors 
with the name of Divine. The same sentiment is 
adopted by Pope in his epitaph on Sir Godfrey Knel- 


ler; ^ and he turns the panegyric solely on imitation, 
as it is a sort of deception. 

I shall not think my time misemployed if by any 
means I may contribute to confirm your opinion of 
what ought to be the object of your pursuit ; because, 
though the best critics must always have exploded 
this strange idea, yet I know that there is a disposi- 
tion towards a perpetual recurrence to it, on account 
of its simplicity and superficial plausibility. For this 
reason I shall beg leave to lay before you a few 
thoughts on this subject; to throw out some hints 
that may lead your minds to an opinion (which I take 
to be the truth) that painting is not only to be con- 
sidered as an imitation operating by deception, but 
that it is, and ought to be, in many points of view, 
and strictly speaking, no imitation at all of external 
nature. Perhaps it ought to be as far removed from 
the vulgar idea of imitation as the refined, civilized 
state in which we live is removed from a gross state 
of nature ; and those who have not cultivated their 
imaginations, which the majority of mankind certainly 
have not, may be said, in regard to arts, to continue 
in this state of nature. Such men will always prefer 
imitation to that excellence which is addressed to an- 
other faculty, that they do not possess; but these are 

^ " Kneller, by Heav'n and not a Master taught. 

Whose art was Nature, and whose pictures Thought ; 
Now for two ages having snatched from fate 
"Whate'er was beauteous, or whate'er was great, 
Lies crowned with princes' honors, poets' lays, 
Due to his merit, and brave thirst of praise. 
Living, great Nature feared he might outvie 
Her works ; and, dying, fears herself may die." 


not the persons to whom a painter is to look, any 
more than a judge of morals and manners ought to 
refer controverted points upon those subjects to the 
opinions of people taken from the banks of the Ohio, 
or from New Holland. 

It is the lowest style only of arts, whether of paint- 
ing, poetry, or music, that may be said, in the vulgar 
sense, to be naturally pleasing. The higher efforts of 
those arts, we know by experience, do not affect minds 
wholly uncultivated. This refined taste is the conse- 
quence of education and habit ; we are born only with 
a capacity of entertaining this refinement, as we are 
born with a disposition to receive and obey all the 
rules and regulations of society; and so far it may 
be said to be natural to us, and no further. 

What has been said may show the artist how ne- 
cessary it is, when he looks about him for the advice 
and criticism of his friends, to make some distinction 
of the character, taste, experience, and observation in 
this art, of those from whom it is received. An igno- 
rant, uneducated man may, like Apelles' critic, be a 
competent judge of the truth of the representation of 
a sandal ; or, to go somewhat higher, like Moliere's 
old woman, may decide upon what is nature, in re- 
gard to comic humor; but a critic in the higher style 
of art ought to possess the same refined taste which 
directed the artist in his work. 

To illustrate this principle by a comparison with 
other arts, I shall now produce some instances to 
show that they, as well as our own art, renounce the 
narrow idea of nature, and the narrow theories derived 
from that mistaken principle, and apply to that reason 


only which informs us, not what imitation is, — a natu- 
ral representation of a given object, — but what it is 
natural for the imagination to be delighted with. And 
perhaps there is no better way of acquiring this knowl- 
edge than by this kind of analogy ; each art will cor- 
roborate and mutually reflect the truth on the other. 
Such a kind of juxtaposition may likewise have this 
use, that while the artist is amusing himself in the 
contemplation of other arts, he may habitually trans- 
fer the principles of those arts to that which he pro- 
fesses ; which ought to be always present to his mind, 
and to which everything is to be referred. 

So far is art from being derived from, or having 
any immediate intercourse with, particular nature as 
its model, that there are many arts that set out with a 
professed deviation from it. 

This is certainly not so exactly true in regard to 
painting and sculpture. Our elements are laid in 
gross common nature, — an exact imitation of what 
is before us ; but when we advance to the higher 
state, we consider this power of imitation, though 
first in the order of acquisition, as b}' no means the 
highest in the scale of perfection. 

Poetry addresses itself to the same faculties and 
the same dispositions as painting, though by different 
means. The object of both is to accommodate itself 
to all the natural propensities and inclinations of the 
mind. The very existence of poetry depends on the 
license it assumes of deviating from actual nature, in 
order to gratify natural propensities by other means, 
which are found by experience full as capable of 
affording such gratification. It sets out with a Ian- 


guage in the highest degree artificial, a construction 
of measured words, such as never is, nor ever was, 
used by man. Let this measure be what it may, 
whether hexameter or any other metre used in Latin 
or Greek, or rhyme, or blank verse varied with pauses 
and accents, in modern languages, — they are all equally 
removed from nature, and equally a violation of com- 
mon speech. When this artificial mode has been es- 
tablished as the vehicle of sentiment, there is another 
principle in the human mind to which the work must 
be referred, which renders it still more artificial, car- 
ries it still further from common nature, and deviates 
only to render it more perfect. That principle is the 
sense of congruity, coherence, and consistency, which 
is a real existing principle in man; and it must be 
gratified. Therefore, having once adopted a style 
and a measure not found in common discourse, it is 
required that the sentiments also should be in the 
same proportion elevated above common nature, from 
the necessity of there being an agreement of the parts 
among themselves, that one uniform whole may be 

To correspond, therefore, with this general sys- 
tem of deviation from nature, the manner in which 
poetry is offered to the car, the tone in which it 
is recited should be as far removed from the tone 
of conversation as the words of which that poctrj- 
is composed. This naturally suggests the idea 
of modulating the voice by art, which, I suppose, 
may be considered as accomplished to the highest 
degree of excellence in the recitative of the Italian 
Opera; as we may conjecture it was in the chorus 


that attended the ancient drama. And though the 
most violent passions, the highest distress, ev^en 
death itself, are expressed in singing or recitative, I 
would not admit as sound criticism the condemna- 
tion of such exhibitions on account of their being 

If it is natural for our senses and our imaginations 
to be delighted with singing, with instrumental music, 
with poetry, and with graceful action, taken sepa- 
rately (none of them being in the vulgar sense nat- 
ural, even in that separate state), it is conformable 
to experience, and therefore agreeable to reason as 
connected and referred to experience, that we should 
also be delighted with this union of music, poetry, 
and graceful action, joined to every circumstance of 
pomp and magnificence calculated' to strike the 
senses of the spectator. Shall reason stand in the 
way, and tell us that we ought not to like what we 
know we do like, and prevent us from feeling the full 
effect of this complicated exertion of art? This is 
what I would understand by poets and painters being 
allowed to dare everything; for what can be more 
daring than accomplishing the purpose and end of 
art by a complication of means, none of which have 
their archetypes in actual nature? 

So far, therefore, is servile imitation from being 
necessary, that whatever is familiar, or in any way 
reminds us of what we see and hear every day, per- 
haps does not belong to the higher provinces of art, 
either in poetry or painting. The mind is to be 
transported, as Shakespeare expresses it, beyond the 
ignorant present^ to ages past. Another and a higher 


order of beings is supposed ; and to those beings 
everything which is introduced into the work must 
correspond. Of this conduct, under these circum- 
stances, the Roman and Florentine schools afford 
sufficient examples. Their style by this means is 
raised and elevated above all others ; and by the 
same means the compass of art itself is enlarged. 

W'e often see grave and great subjects attempted 
by artists of another school ; who, though excellent 
in the lower class of art, proceeding on the principles 
which regulate that class, and not recollecting, or not 
knowing, that they were to address themselves to 
another faculty of the mind, have become perfectly 

The picture which I have at present in my thoughts 
is a sacrifice of Iphigenia, painted by Jan Steen, a 
painter of whom I have formerly had occasion to 
speak with the highest approbation; and even in this 
picture, the subject of which is by no means adapted 
to his genius, there is nature and expression ; but it 
is such expression, and the countenances are so fa- 
miliar, and consequently so vulgar, and the whole ac- 
companied with such finery of silks and velvets, that 
one would be almost tempted to doubt whether the 
artist did not purposely intend to burlesque his 

Instances of the same kind we frequently see in poe- 
try. Parts of Hobbes's translation of Homer are re- 
membered and repeated merely for the familiarity and 
meanness of their phraseology, so ill corresponding 
with the ideas which ought to have been expressed, 
and as I conceive, with the style of the original. 


We may proceed in the same manner through 
the comparatively inferior branches of art. There 
is in works of that class the same distinction of a 
higher and a lower style ; and they take their rank 
and degree in proportion as the artist departs 
more or less from common nature, and makes it 
an object of his attention to strike the imagination 
of the spectator by ways belonging especially to 
art, — unobserved and untaught out of the school 
of its practice. 

If our judgments are to be directed by narrow, 
vulgar, untaught, or rather ill-taught reason, we must 
prefer a portrait by Denner, or any other high fin- 
isher, to those of Titian or Van Dyck; and a land- 
scape of Van der Heyden to those of Titian or 
Rubens ; for they are certainly more exact repre- 
sentations of nature. 

If we suppose a view of nature represented with all 
the truth of the camera obsatra, and the same scene 
represented by a great artist, how little and mean will 
the one appear in comparison with the other, — where 
no superiority is supposed from the choice of the sub- 
ject ! The scene shall be the same, the difference 
only will be in the manner in which it is presented 
to the eye. With what additional superiority, then, 
will the saftie artist appear when he has the power of 
selecting his materials as well as elevating his style. 
Like Nicholas Poussin, he transports us to the en- 
virons of ancient Rome, with all the objects which a 
literary education makes so precious and interesting 
to man; or, like Sebastian Bourdon, he leads us to 
the dark antiquity of the pyramids of Egypt; or, like 


Claude Lorrain, he conducts us to the tranquilhty of 
Arcadian scenes and fairy-land. 

Like the history-painter, a painter of landscapes, in 
this style and with this conduct, sends the imagina- 
tion back into antiquity; and like the poet, he makes 
the elements sympathize with his subject, — whether 
the clouds roll in volumes like those of Titian or 
Salvator Rosa, or, like those of Claude, are gilded 
with the setting sun; whether the mountains have 
sudden and bold projections, or are gently sloped ; 
whether the branches of his trees shoot out abruptly 
in right angles from their trunks, or follow each other 
with only a gentle inclination. All these circum- 
stances contribute to the general character of the 
work, whether it be of the elegant or of the more 
sublime kind. If we add to this the powerful mate- 
rials of lightness and darkness, over which the artist 
has complete dominion, to vary and dispose them as 
he pleases, to diminish or increase them as will best 
suit his purpose and correspond to the general idea 
of his work, — a landscape thus conducted, under the 
influence of a poetical mind, will have the same supe- 
riority over the more ordinary and common views as 
Milton's "L'Allegro" and "II Penseroso" have over a 
cold, prosaic narration or description ; and such a pic- 
ture would make a more forcible impression on the mind 
than the real scenes, were they presented before us. 

If we look abroad to other arts we may observe the 
same distinction, the same division into two classes; 
each of them acting under the influence of two differ- 
ent principles, in which the one follows nature, the 
other varies it, and sometimes departs from it. 


The theatre, which is said " to hold the mirror up 
to nature," comprehends both those ideas. The lower 
kind of comedy, or farce, like the inferior style of 
painting, the more naturally it is represented, the bet- 
ter ; but the higher appears to me to aim no more at 
imitation, so far as it belongs to anything like decep- 
tion, or to expect that the spectators should think 
that the events there represented are really passing 
before them, than Raphael in his cartoons, or Poussin 
in his " Sacraments," expected it to be believed, even 
for a moment, that what they exhibited were real 

For want of this distinction the world is filled with 
false criticism. Raphael is praised for naturalness 
and deception, which he certainly has not accom- 
plished, and as certainly never intended ; and our late 
great actor, Garrick, has been as ignorantly praised 
by his friend Fielding; who doubtless imagined he 
had hit upon an ingenious device, by introducing in 
one of his novels (otherwise a work of the highest 
merit) an ignorant man mistaking Garrick's repre- 
sentation of a scene in " Hamlet " for reality. A very 
little reflection will convince us that there is not one 
circumstance in the whole scene that is of the nature 
of deception. The merit and excellence of Shake- 
speare, and of Garrick, when they were engaged in 
such scenes, is of a different and much higher kind. 
But what adds to the falsity of this intended compli- 
ment is that the best stage-representation appears 
even more unnatural to a person of such a character, 
who is supposed never to have seen a play before, 
than it does to those who have had a habit of allow- 


ing for those necessary deviations from nature which 
the art requires. 

In theatric representation great allowances must 
always be made for the place in which the exhibi- 
tion is represented, — for the surrounding company, 
the lighted candles, the scenes visibly shifted in your 
sight, and the language of blank verse, so different 
from common English, which merely as English must 
appear surprising in the mouths of Hamlet and all 
the court and natives of Denmark. These allowances 
are made, but their being made puts an end to all 
manner of deception ; ' and further, we know that the 
more low, illiterate, and vulgar any person is, the less 
he will be disposed to make these allowances, and of 
course to be deceived by any imitation, — the things 
in which the trespass against nature and common 
probability is made in favor of the theatre being quite 
within the sphere of such uninformed men. 

Though I have no intention of entering into all the 
circumstances of unnaturalness in theatrical represen- 
tations, I must observe that even the expression of 
violent passion is not always the most excellent in 
proportion as it is the most natural ; so great terror 
and such disagreeable sensations may be communi- 
cated to the audience that the balance may be de- 
stroyed by which pleasure is preserved and holds its 

1 It is false that any representation is mistaken for reality, — that 
any dramatic fable in its materiality was ever credible, or, for a single 
moment, was ever credited. . . . The truth is that the spectators are 
always in their senses, and know, from the first act to the last, that the 
stage is only a stage, and that the players are only players. They came 
to hear a certain number of lines recited with just gesture and elegant 
modulation. — Dr. Johnson, Preface to Shakespeare. 


predominance in the mind. Violent distortion of ac- 
tion, harsh screamings of the voice, however great the 
occasions, or however natural on such occasions, are 
therefore not admissible in the theatric art. Many of 
these allowed deviations from nature arise from the 
necessity which there is that everything should be 
raised and enlarged beyond its natural state ; that the 
full effect may come home to the spectator, which 
otherwise would be lost in the comparatively exten- 
sive space of the theatre. Hence the deliberate and 
stately step, the studied grace of action, which seems 
to enlarge the dimensions of the actor, and alone to 
fill the stage. All this unnaturalness, though right 
and proper in its place, would appear affected and 
ridiculous in a private room ; quid enim dcformius 
qnam scenani in vitam transferre ? 

And here I must observe, and I believe it may be 
considered as a general rule, that no art can be grafted 
with success on another art. For though they all pro- 
fess the same origin, and to proceed from the same 
stock, yet each has its own peculiar modes both of 
imitating nature and of deviating from it, each for the 
accomplishment of its own particular purpose. These 
deviations, more especially, will not bear transplanta- 
tion to another soil. 

If a painter should endeavor to copy the theatrical 
pomp and parade of dress and attitude, instead of 
that simplicity which is not a greater beauty in life 
than it is in painting, we should condemn such pic- 
tures, as painted in the meanest style. 

So, also, gardening — as far as gardening is an art, 
or is entitled to the appellation — is a deviation from 


nature ; for if the true taste consists, as many hold, 
in banishing every appearance of art, or any traces 
of the footsteps of man, it would then be no longer a 
garden. Even though we define it, " nature to ad- 
vantage dressed," — and in some sense it is such, and 
much more beautiful and commodious for the recrea- 
tion of man, — it is, however, when so dressed, no longer 
a subject for the pencil of a landscape-painter, as all 
landscape-painters know, who love to have recourse to 
nature herself, and to dress her according to the prin- 
ciples of their own art, which are far different from 
those of gardening, even when conducted according 
to the most approved principles, and such as a land- 
scape-painter himself would adopt in the disposition 
of his own grounds, for his own private satisfaction. 

I have brought together as many instances as 
appear necessary to make out the several points 
which I wished to suggest to your consideration in 
this discourse, — that your own thoughts ma\' lead 
you further in the use that may be made of the 
analogy of the arts, and of the restraint which a full 
understanding of the diversity of many of their 
principles ought to impose on the employment of 
that analogy. 

The great end of all those arts is to make an im- 
pression on the imagination and the feeling. The 
imitation of nature frequently does this. Sometimes 
it fails, and something else succeeds. I think, there- 
fore, the true test of all the arts is not solely whether 
the production is a true cop}- of nature, but whether 
it answers the end of art, which is to produce a 
pleasing effect upon the mind. 


It remains only to speak a few words of architec- 
ture, which does not come under the denomination 
of an imitative art. It appHes itself, like music (and, 
I believe, we may add poetry), directly to the imagi- 
nation, without the intervention of any kind of 

There is in architecture, as in painting, an inferior 
branch of art in which the imagination appears to 
have no concern. It does not, however, acquire the 
name of a polite and liberal art from its usefulness, 
or administering to our wants or necessities, but from 
some higher principle ; we are sure that in the hands 
of a man of genius it is capable of inspiring senti- 
ment, and of filling the mind with great and sublime 

It may be worth the attention of artists to consider 
what materials are in their hands that may contribute 
to this end, and whether this art has it not in its 
power to address itself to the imagination with effect, 
by more ways than are generally employed by 

To pass over the effect produced by that general 
symmetry and proportion by which the eye is de- 
lighted, as the ear is with music, architecture certainly 
possesses many principles in common with poetry 
and painting. Among those which may be reckoned 
as the first is that of affecting the imagination by 
means of association of ideas. Thus, for instance, 
as we have naturally a veneration for antiquity, what- 
ever building brings to our remembrance ancient 
customs and manners, such as the castles of the 
barons of ancient chivalry, is sure to give this delight. 


Hence it is that towers atid battleuients ^ are so often 
selected by the painter and the poet to make a part 
of the composition of their ideal landscape ; and it 
is from hence, in a great degree, that in the buildings 
of Vanbrugh, who was a poet as well as an architect, 
there is a greater display of imagination than we 
shall find, perhaps, in any other; and this is the 
ground of the effect we feel in many of his works, 
notwithstanding the faults with which many of them 
are justly charged. For this purpose, Vanbrugh 
appears to have had recourse to some of the prin- 
ciples of the Gothic architecture; which, though not 
so ancient as the Grecian, is more so to our imagi- 
nation, with which the artist is more concerned than 
with absolute truth. 

The barbaric splendor of those Asiatic buildings 
which are now publishing by a member of this 
Academy, may possibl}', in the same manner, furnish 
an architect, not with models to copy, but with hints 
of composition and general effect, which would not 
otherwise have occurred. 

It is, I know, a delicate and hazardous thing (and 
as such I have already pointed it out) to carry the 
principles of one art to another, or even to reconcile 
in one object the various modes of the same art, when 
they proceed on different principles. The sound 
rules of the Grecian architecture are not to be 
lightly sacrificed. A deviation from them, or even 
an addition to them, is like a deviation or addition 

1 Towers and battlements it sees 
Bosom'd high in tufted trees. 

Milton, U Allegro. 


to, or from, the rules of other arts, — fit only for a 
great master, who is thoroughly conversant in the 
nature of man, as well as all combinations in his 
own art. 

It may not be amiss for the architect to take ad- 
vantage sometimes of that to which I am sure the 
painter ought always to have his eyes open, — I mean 
the use of accidents ; to follow when they lead, and 
to improve them, rather than always to trust to a 
regular plan. It often happens that additions have 
been made to houses at various times, for use or 
pleasure. As such buildings depart from regularity 
they now and then acquire something of scenery by 
this accident, which I should think might not un- 
successfully be adopted by an architect in an original 
plan, if it does not too much interfere with conven- 
ience. Variety and intricacy is a beauty and excel- 
lence in every other of the arts which address the 
imagination, and why not in architecture? 

The forms and turnings of the streets of London 
and other old towns are produced by accident, with- 
out any original plan or design, but they are not 
always the less pleasant to the walker or spectator 
on that account. On the contrary, if the city had 
been built on the regular plan of Sir Christopher 
Wren, the effect might have been, as we know it is 
in some new parts of the town, rather unpleasing; 
the uniformity might have produced weariness, and 
a slight degree of disgust. 

I can pretend to no skill in the detail of architec- 
ture. I judge now of the art merely as a painter. 
When I speak of Vanbrugh I mean to speak of him 


in the language of our art. To speak, then, of Van- 
brugh in the language of a painter, he had originality 
of invention, he understood light and shadow, and 
had great skill in composition. To support his prin- 
cipal object, he produced his second and third groups 
or masses ; he perfectly understood in his art what 
is the most difficult in ours, the conduct of the back- 
ground ; by which the design and invention is set off 
to the greatest advantage. What the background is 
in painting, in architecture is the real ground on 
which the building is erected ; and no architect took 
greater care than he that his work should not appear 
crude and hard ; that is, it did not abruptly start out 
of the ground without expectation or preparation. 

This is a tribute which a painter owes to an archi- 
tect who composed like a painter, and was defrauded 
of the due reward of his merit by the wits of his time, 
who-did not understand the principles of composition 
in poetry better than he, and who knew little or 
nothing of what he understood perfectly, — the gen- 
eral ruling principles of architecture and painting. 
His fate was that of the great Perrault; both were 
the objects of the petulant sarcasms of factious men 
of letters, and both have left some of the fairest 
ornaments which to this day decorate their several 
countries, — the fagade of the Louvre, Blenheim, and 
Castle Howard. 

Upon the whole it seems to me that the object and 
intention of all the arts is to supply the natural im- 
perfection of things, and often to gratify the mind 
by realizing and embodying what never existed but 
in the imagination. 


It is allowed on all hands that facts and events, 
however they may bind the historian, have no 
dominion over the poet or the painter. With us, 
history is made to bend and conform to this great 
idea of art. And why? Because these arts, in their 
highest province, are not addressed to the gross 
senses, but to the desires of the mind, — to that spark 
of divinity which we have within, impatient of being 
circumscribed and pent up by the world which is 
about us. Just so much as our art has of this, just 
so much of dignity, I had almost said of divinity, it 
exhibits ; and those of our artists who possessed this 
mark of distinction in the highest degree acquired 
from thence the glorious appellation of DIVINE. 

Miss hlellv O'Brien. 


Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distri- 
bution of the Prizes, December lo, 1788. 


In the study of our art, as in the study of all arts, 
something is the result of our own observation of 
nature ; something, and that not a little, the effect of 
the example of those who have studied the same 
nature before us, and who have cultivated before us 
the same art with diligence and success. The less 
we confine ourselves in the choice of those examples, 
the more advantage we shall derive from them, and 
the nearer we shall bring our performances to a cor- 
respondence with nature and the great general rules 
of art. When we draw our examples from remote 
and revered antiquity — with some advantage, un- 
doubtedly, in that selection — we subject ourselves to 
some inconveniences. We may suffer ourselves to 
be too much led away by great names, and to be too 

^ Gainsborough died in August, 17SS. Ruskin calls him "deep- 
thoughted, solemn Gainsborough," " pure in his English feeling, pro- 
found in his seriousness, graceful in his gayety." " A great name his, 
whether of the English or any other school — the greatest cclorist 
since Rubens." "In management and quality of single and particu- 
lar tint, in the purely technical part of painting, Turner is a child to 
Gainsborough. . . . Mis hand is as light as the sweep of a cloud, as 
swift as the flash of a sunbeam. ... In a word, Gainsborough is an 
immortal painter." [Modern Painters.) 


much subdued by overbearing authority. Our learn- 
ing, in that case, is not so much an exercise of our 
judgment as a proof of our docility. We find our- 
selves, perhaps, too much overshadowed ; and the 
character of our pursuits is rather distinguished by 
the tameness of the follower than animated by the 
spirit of emulation. It is sometimes of service that 
our examples should be near us, and such as raise 
a reverence sufficient to induce us carefully to ob- 
serve them, yet not so great as to prevent us from 
engaging with them in something like a generous 

We have lately lost Mr. Gainsborough, one of the 
greatest ornaments of our Academy. It is not our 
business here to make panegyrics on the living, or 
even on the dead who were of our body. The praise 
of the former might bear the appearance of adula- 
tion ; and the latter, of untimely justice, — perhaps of 
envy to those whom we have still the happiness to 
enjoy, by an oblique suggestion of invidious com- 
parisons. In discoursing, therefore, on the talents of 
the late Mr. Gainsborough, my object is, not so much 
to praise or to blame him, as to draw from his ex- 
cellences and defects matter of instruction to the 
students in our Academy. If ever this nation should 
produce genius sufficient to acquire to us the honor- 
able distinction of an English school, the name of 
Gainsborough will be transmitted to posterity, in the 
history of the art, among the very first of that rising 
name.^ That our reputation in the arts is now only 

1 He was the father, the originator, of modern landscape. 



rising must be acknowledged ; and we must expect 
our advances to be attended witli old prejudices, as 
adversaries, and not as supporters, — standing in this 
respect in a very different situation from the late 
artists of the Roman school, to whose reputation 
ancient prejudices have certainly contributed ; the 
way was prepared for them, and they may be said 
rather to have lived in the reputation of their coun- 
try than have contributed to it ; while whatever celeb- 
rity is obtained by English artists can arise only 
from the operation of a fair and true comparison. 
And when they communicate to their country a share 
of their reputation it is a portion of fame not bor- 
rowed from others, but solely acquired by their own 
labor and talents. As Italy has undoubtedly a pre- 
scriptive right to an admiration bordering on preju- 
dice, as a soil peculiarly adapted, congenial, and, we 
may add, destined to the production of men of great 
genius in our art, we may not unreasonably suspect 
that a portion of the great fame of some of their late 
artists has been owing to the general readiness and 
disposition of mankind to acquiesce in their original 
prepossessions in favor of the productions of the 
Roman school. 

On this ground, however unsafe, I will venture to 
prophesy, that two of the last distinguished painters 
of that country, — I mean Pompeio Battoni and Ra- 
phael Mengs, — however great their names may at pres- 
ent sound in our ears, will very soon fall into the rank 
of Impcriale, Sebastian Concha, Placido Constanza, 
Masaccio, and the rest of their immediate predeces- 
sors ; whose names, though equally renowned in their 


lifetime, are now fallen into what is little short of total 
oblivion. I do not say that those painters were not 
superior to the artist I allude to and whose loss we 
lament, in a certain routine of practice, which to the 
eyes of common observers has the air of a learned 
composition, and bears a sort of superficial resem- 
blance to the manner of the great men who went 
before them. I know this perfectly well; but I 
know likewise that a man looking for real and lasting 
reputation must unlearn much of the commonplace 
method so observable in the works of the artists 
whom I have named. For my own part, I confess, 
I take more interest in and am more captivated with 
the powerful impression of nature which Gainsbor- 
ough exhibited in his portraits and in his landscapes, 
and the interesting simplicity and elegance of his 
little ordinary beggar-children, than with any of the 
works of that school since the time of Andrea 
Sacchi, or perhaps we may say Carlo Maratti, — two 
painters who may truly be said to be Ultimi 

I am well aware how much I lay myself open to 
the censure and ridicule of the academical professors 
of other nations, in preferring the humble attempts 
of Gainsborough to the works of those regular gradu- 
ates in the great historical style. But we have the 
sanction of all mankind in preferring genius in a 
lower rank of art to feebleness and insipidity in the 

It would not be to the present purpose, even if I 
had the means and materials, which I have not, to 
enter into the private life of Mr. Gainsborough. The 


history of his gradual advancement, and the means 
by which he acquired such excellence in his art, 
would come nearer to our purposes and wishes, if it 
were by any means attainable ; but the slow progress 
of advancement is in general imperceptible to the 
man himself who makes it ; it is the consequence of 
an accumulation of various ideas which his mind has 
received, he does not perhaps know how or when. 
Sometimes, indeed, it happens that he may be able 
to mark the time when, from the sight of a picture, a 
passage in an author, or a hint in conversation, he 
has received, as it were, some new and guiding light, 
something like inspiration, by which his mind has 
been expanded ; and is morally sure that his whole life 
and conduct has been affected by that accidental cir- 
cumstance. Such interesting accounts we may, how- 
ever, sometimes obtain from a man who has acquired 
an uncommon habit of self-examination, and has at- 
tended to the progress of his own improvement. 

It may not be improper to make mention of some 
of the customs and habits of this extraordinary man ; 
points which come more within the reach of an ob- 
server. I, however, mean such only as are connected 
with his art, and indeed were, as I apprehend, the 
causes of his arriving to that high degree of excel- 
lence which we see and acknowledge in his works. 
Of these causes we must state, as the fundamental, 
the love which he had to his art; to which, indeed, 
his whole mind appears to have been devoted, and to 
which everything was referred ; and this we may fairly 
conclude from various circumstances of his life which 
were known to his intimate friends. Among others, 


he had a habit of continually remarking to those 
who happened to be about him whatever peculiarity 
of countenance, whatever accidental combination of 
figure, or happy effects of light and shadow, occurred 
in prospects, in the sky, in walking the streets, or in 
company. If in his walks he found a character that 
he liked, and whose attendance was to be obtained, 
he ordered him to his house ; and from the fields he 
brought into his painting-room stumps of trees, weeds, 
and animals of various kinds, and designed them, 
not from memory, but immediately from the objects. 
He even framed a kind of model of landscapes on his 
table, composed of broken stones, dried herbs, and 
pieces of looking-glass, which he magnified and im- 
proved into rocks, trees, and water. How far this 
latter practice may be useful in giving hints, the pro- 
fessors of landscape can best determine. Like every 
other technical practice, it seems to me wholh' to de- 
pend on the general talent of him who uses it. Such 
methods may be nothing better than contemptible 
and mischievous trifling, or they may be aids. I 
think, upon the whole, unless we constantly refer to 
real nature, that practice may be more likely to do 
harm than good. I mention it only as it shows the 
solicitude and extreme activity which he had about 
everything that related to his art; that he wished to 
have his objects embodied, as it were, and distinctly 
before him; that he neglected nothing which could 
keep his faculties in exercise, and derived hints from 
every sort of combination. 

We must not forget, while we are on this subject, 
to make some remarks on his custom of painting by 


night, which confirms what I have already mentioned, 
— his great affection to his art ; since he could not 
amuse himself in the evening by any other means so 
agreeable to himself. I am, indeed, much inclined to 
believe that it is a practice very advantageous and im- 
proving to an artist ; for by this means he will acquire 
a new and a higher perception of what is great and 
beautiful in nature. By candle-light, not only ob- 
jects appear more beautiful, but from their being in 
a greater breadth of light and shadow, as well as hav- 
ing a greater breadth and uniformity of color, nature 
appears in a higher style ; and even the flesh seems 
to take a higher and riclicr tone of color. Judgment 
is to direct us in the use to be made of this method 
of study, but the method itself is, I am sure, advan- 
tageous. I have often imagined that the two great 
colorists, Titian and Correggio, though I do not know 
that they painted by night, formed their high ideas of 
coloring from the effects of objects by this artificial 
light; but I am more assured that whoever atten- 
tively studies the first and best manner of Guercino 
will be convinced that he either painted by this light 
or formed his manner on this conception. 

Another practice Gainsborough had which is worth 
mentioning, as it is certainly worth}' of imitation; I 
mean his manner of forming all the parts of his pic- 
ture together; the whole going on at the same time, 
in the same manner as nature creates her works. 
Though this method is not uncommon to those who 
have been regularly educated, yet probably it was 
suggested to him by his own natural sagacity. That 
this custom is not universal appears from the practice 


of a painter whom I have just mentioned, Pompeio 
Battoni, who finished his historical pictures part after 
part, and in his portraits completely finished one feat- 
ure before he proceeded to another. The consequence 
was as might be expected ; the countenance was never 
well expressed ; and, as the painters say, the whole 
was not well put together. 

The first thing required to excel in our art, or I 
believe in any art, is not only a love for it, but even 
an enthusiastic ambition to excel in it. This never 
fails of success proportioned to the natural abilities 
with which the artist has been endowed by Provi- 
dence. Of Gainsborough, we certainly know that 
his passion was not the acquirement of riches, but 
excellence in his art, — and to enjoy that honorable 
fame which is sure to attend it. That he felt this 
ruling passion strong in death I am myself a witness. 
A few days before he died he wrote me a letter to 
express his acknowledgments for the good opinion 
I entertained of his abilities, and the manner in which 
(he had been informed) I always spoke of him; and 
desired he might see me once more before he died. 
I am aware how flattering it is to myself to be thus 
connected with the dying testimony which this 
excellent painter bore to his art. But I cannot pre- 
vail on myself to suppress that I was not connected 
with him by any habits of familiarity. If any little 
jealousies had subsisted between us, they were for- 
gotten in those moments of sincerity ; and he turned 
towards me as one who was engrossed by the same 
pursuits, and who deserved his good opinion by 
beinsf sensible of his excellence. Without entering 


into a detail of what passed at this last interview,' the 
impression of it upon my mind was that his regret 
at losing life was principally the regret of leaving 
his art ; and more especially as he now began, he 
said, to see what his deficiencies were; which, he 
said, he flattered himself in his last works were in 
some measure supplied. 

When such a man as Gainsborough arrives to great 
fame, without the assistance of an academical educa- 
tion, without travelling to Italy, or any of those 
preparatory studies which have been so often recom- 
mended, he is produced as an instance how little 
such studies are necessary; since so great excellence 
may be acquired without them. This is an inference 
not warranted by the success of any individual ; and 
I trust it will not be thought that I wish to make this 
use of it. 

It must be remembered that the style and depart- 
ment of art which Gainsborough chose, and in which 
he so much excelled, did not require that he should 
go out of his own country for the objects of his 
study; they were everywhere about him; he found 
them in the streets and in the fields, and from the 
models thus accidentally found, he selected with great 
judgment such as suited his purpose. As his studies 
were directed to the living world principally, he did 
not pay a general attention to the works of the vari- 

1 When Reynolds approached the death-bed and bent his ear to 
catch the failing words, Gainsborough said : " We are all going to 
heaven, and Van Dyck is of the company," — words which, as Mr. 
Ruskin says, " we may take for a beautiful reconciliation of all 
schools and souls who have done their work to the best of their 
knowledge and conscience." 


ous masters, though they are, in my opinion, always 
of great use, even when the character of our subject 
requires us to depart from some of their principles. 
It cannot be denied that excellence in the depart- 
ment of the art which he professed may exist without 
them ; that in such subjects, and in the manner that 
belongs to them, the want of them is supplied, and 
more than supplied, by natural sagacity and a minute 
observation of particular nature. If Gainsborough 
did not look at nature with a poet's eye, it must be 
acknowledged that he saw her with the eye of a 
painter, and gave a faithful, if not a poetical, repre- 
sentation of what he had before him. 

Though he did not much attend to the works of 
the great historical painters of former ages, yet he 
was well aware that the language of the art — the art 
of imitation — must be learned somewhere ; and as 
he knew that he could not learn it in an equal degree 
from his contemporaries, he very judiciously applied 
himself to the Flemish school, who are undoubtedly 
the greatest masters of one necessary branch of art; 
and he did not need to go out of his own country 
for examples of that school ; from that he learned the 
harmony of coloring, the management and disposition 
of light and shadow, and every means which the 
masters of it practised to ornament and give splen- 
dor to their works. And to satisfy himself as well 
as others how well he knew the mechanism and 
artifice which they employed to bring out that tone 
of color which we so much admire in their works, he 
occasionally made copies from Rubens, Teniers, and 
Van Dyck, which it would be no disgrace to the 


most accurate connoisseur to mistake, at the first 
sight, for the works of those masters. What he thus 
learned, he appHed to the originals of nature, which 
he saw with his own eyes ; and imitated, not in the 
manner of those masters, but in his own. 

Whether he most excelled in portraits, landscapes, 
or fancy pictures, it is difficult to determine; whether 
his portraits were most admirable for exact truth of 
resemblance, or his landscapes for a portrait-like 
representation of nature, such as we see in the works 
of Rubens, Ruysdael, and others of those schools. 
In his fancy pictures, when he had fixed on his object 
of imitation, whether it was the mean and vulgar 
form of a wood-cutter, or a child of an interesting 
character, as he did not attempt to raise the one, so 
neither did he lose any of the natural grace and 
elegance of the other, — such a grace, and such an 
elegance, as are more frequently found in cottages 
than in courts. This excellence was his own, the 
result of his particular observation and taste ; for this 
he was certainly not indebted to the Flemish school, 
nor indeed, to any school ; for his grace was not 
academical or antique, but selected by himself from 
the great school of nature ; and there are yet a 
thousand modes of grace, which are neither theirs 
nor his, but lie open in the multiplied scenes and 
figures of life, to be brought out by skilful and 
faithful observers. 

Upon the whole, we may justly say that whatever 
he attempted he carried to a high degree of excel- 
lence. It is to the credit of his good sense and judg- 
ment that he never did attempt that style of histori- 


cal painting for which his previous studies had made 
no preparation. 

And here it naturally occurs to oppose the sensi- 
ble conduct of Gainsborough in this respect to that 
of our late excellent Hogarth, who with all his ex- 
traordinary talents, was not blessed with this knowl- 
edge of his own deficiency, or of the bounds which 
were set to the extent of his own powers. After 
this admirable artist had spent the greater part of his 
life in an active, busy, and we may add, successful 
attention to the ridicule of life ; after he had invented 
a new species of dramatic painting, in w^hich probably 
he will never be equalled, and had stored his mind 
with infinite materials to explain and illustrate the 
domestic and familiar scenes of common life which 
were generally, and ought to have been always, the 
subject of his pencil ; he very imprudently, or rather 
presumptuously, attempted the great historical style,^ 
for which his previous habits had by no means pre- 
pared him. He was indeed so entirely unacquainted 
with the principles of this style that he was not even 
aware that any artificial preparation was at all ne- 
cessary. It is to be regretted that any part of the life 
of such a genius should be fruitlessly employed. 
Let his failure teach us not to indulge ourselves in 

1 In 1736 Hogarth painted on the walls of St. Bartholomew's 
Hospital " The Pool of Bethesda" and "The Good Samaritan," — in 
both of which the Hogarthian spirit of humor and satire is a]Dparent. 
In " The Pool of Bethesda," the servant of a rich leper is seen driving 
away with his stick a poor wretch who has drawn near to batlie in the 
waters. In another picture, representing Danae, he has yielded to 
the same spirit, showing the distrustful old nurse testing a piece of 
gold with her teeth. — Chesneau. 


the vain imagination that by a momentary resolu- 
tion we can give either dexterity to the hand or a 
new habit to the mind. 

I have, however, httle doubt but that the same 
sagacity which enabled those two extraordinary men 
to discover their true object, and the peculiar excel- 
lence of that branch of art which they cultivated, 
would have been equally effectual in discovering the 
principles of the higher style if they had investigated 
those principles with the same eager industry which 
they exerted in their own department. As Gains- 
borough never attempted the heroic style, so neither 
did he destroy the character and uniformity of his 
own style by the idle affectation of introducing 
mythological learning in any of his pictures. Of this 
boyish folly we see instances enough, even in the 
works of great painters. When the Dutch school 
attempt this poetry of our art in their landscapes, 
their performances are beneath criticism ; they be- 
come only an object of laughter. This practice is 
hardly excusable even in Claude Lorrain, who had 
shown more discretion if he had never meddled with 
such subjects. 

Our late ingenious Academician, Wilson, has, I 
fear, been guilty, like many of his predecessors, of 
introducing gods and goddesses, ideal beings, into 
scenes which were by no means prepared to receive 
such personages. His landscapes were in reality too 
near common nature to admit supernatural objects. 
In consequence of this mistake, in a very admirable 
picture of a storm which I have seen of his hand, 
many figures arc introduced in the foreground, some 


in apparent distress, and some struck dead, as a 
spectator would naturally suppose, by the lightning, 
had not the painter injudiciously (as I think) rather 
chosen that their death should be imputed to a little 
Apollo, who appears in the sky, with his bent bow, 
and that those figures should be considered as the 
children of Niobe.^ 

To manage a subject of this kind, a peculiar style 
of art is required ; and it can only be done without 
impropriety, or even without ridicule, when we adapt 
the character of the landscape, and that too in all its 
parts, to the historical or poetical representation. 
This is a very difficult adventure, and it requires a 
mind thrown back two thousand years, and as it were 
naturalized in antiquity, like that of Nicolas Poussin, 
to achieve it. In the picture alluded to,- the first 
idea that presents itself is that of wonder, at seeing a 
figure in so uncommon a situation as that in which 
the Apollo is placed ; for the clouds on which he 
kneels have not the appearance of being able to sup- 
port him ; they have neither the substance nor the 
form fit for the receptacle of a human figure; and 
they do not possess in any respect that romantic 
character which is appropriate to such an object, 
and which alone can harmonize with poetical stories, 

^ When Wilson returned to England from Italy, George III. com- 
missioned him to paint Kew Gardens ; but instead of painting the 
reality, he substituted an Italian scene lit by a Southern sun. The 
King failed to recognize any resemblance to Kew, and returned the 
picture. IVI. Chesneau says, " Wilson always believed that Provi- 
dence only created nature to serve as a surrounding for Niobe's mis- 
fortunes, and that ruins are the most beautiful arcliitecture in the 

2 Now in the British National Gallery. 


It appears to me that such conduct is no less ab- 
surd than if a plain man, giving a relation of real 
distress occasioned by an inundation accompanied 
with thunder and lightning, should, instead of simply- 
relating the event, take it into his head, in order to 
give a grace to his narration, to talk of Jupiter Plu- 
vius, or Jupiter and his thunderbolts, or any other 
figurative idea, — an intermixture which, though in 
poetry, with its proper preparations and accompani- 
ments, it might be managed with effect, yet in the 
instance before us would counteract the purpose of 
the narrator, and instead of being interesting, would 
be only ridiculous. 

The Dutch and Flemish style of landscape, not 
even excepting those of Rubens, is unfit for poetical 
subjects; but to explain in what this ineptitude con- 
sists, or to point out all the circumstances that give 
nobleness, grandeur, and the poetic character, to 
style in landscape, would require a long discourse of 
itself; and the end would be then perhaps but im- 
perfectly attained. The painter who is ambitious of 
this perilous excellence must catch his inspiration 
from those who have cultivated with success the 
poetry, as it may be called, of the art ; and they are 
few indeed. 

I cannot quit this subject without mentioning two 
examples which occur to me at present, in which the 
poetical style of landscape may be seen happil}' exe- 
cuted : the one is " Jacob's Dream," by Salvator Rosa, 
and the other the " Return of the Ark from Captivity," 
by Sebastian Bourdon. With whatever dignity those 
histories are presented to us in the language of Scrip- 


ture, this style of painting possesses the same power 
of inspiring sentiments of grandeur and sublimity, and 
is able to communicate them to subjects which ap- 
pear by no means adapted to receive them. A lad- 
der against the sky has no very promising appearance 
of possessing a capacity to excite any heroic ideas : 
and the ark, in the hands of a second-rate master, 
would have little more effect than a common wagon 
on the highway : yet those subjects are so poetically 
treated throughout, the parts have such a correspon- 
dence with each other, and the whole and every part 
of the scene is so visionary, that it is impossible to 
look at them without feeling, in some measure, the en- 
thusiasm which seems to have inspired the painters. 

By continual contemplation of such works a sense 
of the higher excellences of art will by degrees dawn 
on the imagination ; at every review that sense will 
become more and more assured, until we come to en- 
joy a sober certainty of the real existence (if I may 
so express myself) of those almost ideal beauties ; and 
the artist will then find no difficulty in fixing in his 
mind the principles by which the impression is pro- 
duced, which he w^ill feel and practice, though they 
are perhaps too delicate and refined, and too peculiar 
to the imitative art, to be conveyed to the mind by 
any other means. 

To return to Gainsborough ; the peculiarity of his 
manner, or style, or we may call it the language in 
which he expressed his ideas, has been considered by 
many as his greatest defect. But without altogether 
wishing to enter into the discussion whether this pecu- 
liarity was a defect or not, — intermixed, as it was. 


with great beauties, of some of which it was probably 
the cause, it becomes a proper subjectof criticism and 
inquiry to a painter. 

A novelty and peculiarity of manner, as it is often 
a cause of our approbation, so likewise it is often a 
ground of censure, as being contrary to the practice 
of other painters in whose manner we have been ini- 
tiated and in whose favor we have perhaps been pre- 
possessed from our infancy; for, fond as we are of 
novelty, we are upon the whole creatures of habit. 
However, it is certain, that all those odd scratches 
and marks which, on a close examination, are so ob- 
servable in Gainsborough's pictures, and which even 
to experienced painters appear rather the effect of 
accident than design, — this chaos, this uncouth and 
shapeless appearance, by a kind of magic, at a cer- 
tain distance assumes form, and all the parts seem to 
drop into their proper places, so that we can hardly 
refuse acknowledging the full effect of diligence under 
the appearance of chance and hnsty negligence. That 
Gainsborough himself considered this peculiarity in 
his manner and the power it possesses of exciting sur- 
prise as a beauty in his works, I think may be inferred 
from the eager desire which we know he always ex- 
pressed, that his pictures at the exhibition should be 
seen near, as well as at a distance. 

The slightness which we see in his best works 
cannot always be imputed to negligence. However 
they may appear to superficial observers, painters 
know very well that a steady attention to the general 
effect takes up more time, and is much more labori- 
ous to the mind than any mode of high finishing or 


smoothness, without such attention. His handling, 
the manner of leaving the colors, or, in other words, 
the methods he used for producing the effect, had 
very much the appearance of the work of an artist 
who had never learned from others the usual and regu- 
lar practice belonging to the art; but still, like a man 
of strong intuitive perception of what was required, 
he found out a way of his own to accomplish his 

It is no disgrace to the genius of Gainsborough to 
compare him to such men as we sometimes meet with, 
whose natural eloquence appears even in speaking a 
language which they can scarce be said to under- 
stand ; and who, without knowing the appropriate 
expression of almost any one idea, contrive to com- 
municate the lively and forcible impressions of an 
energetic mind. 

I think some apology may reasonably be made for 
his manner without violating truth, or running any 
risk of poisoning the minds of the younger students, 
by propagating false criticism for the sake of raising 
the character of a favorite artist. It must be allowed 
that this hatching manner of Gainsborough did very 
much contribute to the lightness of effect which is so 
eminent a beauty in his pictures; as, on the contrary, 
much smoothness and uniting the colors is apt to pro- 
duce heaviness. Every artist must have remarked 
how often that lightness of hand which was in his 
dead color, or first painting, escaped in the finishing 
when he had determined the parts with more preci- 
sion ; and another loss he often experiences, which is 
of greater consequence, — while he is employed in the 


detail, the effect of the whole together is either for- 
gotten or neglected. The lightness of a portrait, as 
I have formerly observed, consists more in preserving 
the general effect of the countenance than in the most 
minute finishing of the features, or any of the particu- 
lar parts. Now Gainsborough's portraits were often 
little more, in regard to finishing, or determining the 
form of the features, than what generally attends a 
dead color; but as he was always attenti\-e to the 
general effect, or whole together, I have often imag- 
ined that this unfinished manner contributed even to 
that striking resemblance for which his portraits are 
so remarkable. Though this opinion may be consid- 
ered as fanciful, yet I think a plausible reason maybe 
given why such a mode of painting should have such 
an effect. It is presupposed that in this undetermined 
manner there is in the general effect enough to re- 
mind the spectator of the original ; the imagination 
supplies the rest, and perhaps more satisfactorily to 
himself, if not more exactly, than the artist, with all 
his care, could possibly have done. At the same 
time it must be acknowledged there is one evil at- 
tending this mode, — that if the portrait were seen 
previous to any knowledge of the original, different 
persons would form different ideas, and all would be 
disappointed at not finding the original correspond 
with their own conceptions, under the great latitude 
which indistinctness gives to the imagination to as- 
sume almost what character or form it pleases. 

Every artist has some favorite part, on which he 
fixes his attention, and which he pursues with such 
eagerness that it absorbs ever)- other consideration; 


and he often falls into the opposite error of that 
which he would avoid, which is always ready to re- 
ceive him. Now Gainsborough, having truly a paint- 
er's eye for coloring, cultivated those effects of the 
art which proceed from colors ; and sometimes ap- 
pears to be indifferent to or to neglect other excel- 
lences. Whatever defects are acknowledged, let 
him still experience from us the same candor that 
we so freely give upon similar occasions to the an- 
cient masters ; let us not encourage that fastidious 
disposition which is discontented with everything 
short of perfection, and unreasonably require, as we 
sometimes do, a union of excellences not perhaps 
quite compatible with each other. We may, on this 
ground, say even of the divine Raphael, that he might 
have finished his picture as highly and as correctly 
as was his custom, without heaviness of manner; and 
that Poussin might have preserved all his precision 
without hardness or dryness. 

To show the difficulty of uniting solidity with light- 
ness of manner, we may produce a picture of Rubens 
in the church of St. Gudule, at Brussels, as an ex- 
ample ; the subject is "Christ's Charge to Peter;" 
which, as it is the highest and smoothest finished 
picture I remember to have seen of that master, so 
it is by far the heaviest ; and if I had found it in any 
other place I should have suspected it to be a copy; 
for painters know very well that it is principally by 
this air of facility, or the want of it, that originals are 
distinguished from copies. A lightness of effect pro- 
duced by color, and that produced by facility of 
handling, are generally united; a copy may preserve 


something of the one, it is true, but hardly ever of 
the other ; a connoisseur, therefore, finds it often ne- 
cessary to look carefully into the picture before he 
determines on its originality. Gainsborough pos- 
sessed this quality of lightness of manner and effect, 
I think, to an unexampled degree of excellence ; but 
it must be acknowledged, at the same time, that the 
sacrifice which he made to this ornament of our art 
was too great ; it was, in reality, preferring the lesser 
excellences to the greater. 

To conclude. However we may apologize for the 
deficiencies of Gainsborough (I mean particular!}' his 
want of precision and finishing), who so ingeniously 
contrived to cover his defects by his beauties, and 
who cultivated that department of art where such 
defects are more easily excused, you are to remem- 
ber that no apology can be made for this deficiency 
in that st\-!e which this Academy teaches, and which 
ought to be the object of your pursuit. It will be 
necessary for you, in the first place, never to lose 
sight of the great rules and principles of the art, as 
they are collected from the full body of the best 
general practice, and the most constant and uniform 
experience; this must be the groundwork of all 
your studies. Afterwards you may profit, as in this 
case I wish you to profit, by the peculiar experience 
and personal talents of artists, living and dead; you 
may derive lights, and catch hints, from their prac- 
tice ; but the moment you turn them into models, 
you fall infinitely below them ; }ou max- be cor- 
rupted by excellences not so much belonging to 
the art as personal and appropriate to the artist, 


and become bad copies of good painters, instead of 
excellent imitators of the great universal truth of 

1 Comparing the two "greatest and Englishest" of the English 
school, M. Chesneau says : " And thus Reynolds's talent is a magnifi- 
cent victory of the will ; that of Gainsborough the spontaneous un- 
folding of a flower accomplishing its natural transition and ripening 
into fruit. It was a fruit of an exquisite savor. What Reynolds sets 
himself to learn, and learns without difficulty, owing to the keen in- 
telligence with which he is gifted, Gainsborough in his Suffolk woods 
imagines and creates for the satisfaction of his fancy. ... If one 
would define exactly the difference between these two masters, one 
might say that Reynolds was all intelligence and wil!, Gainsborough 
all soul and sentiment; the former delights those of refined tastes, 
the latter charms everybody." (English Fainthig). 

John, Eaile of Upper Ossorv. 


Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the 
Distribution of the Prizes^ December lo, 1790. 


The intimate connection which I have had with 
the Royal Academy ever since its estabHshment, the 
social duties in which we have all mutually engaged 
for so many years, make any profession of attachment 
to this institution on my part altogether superfluous ; 
the influence of habit alone in such a connection 
would naturally have produced it. 

Among men united in the same body and engaged 
in the same pursuit, along with permanent friendship 
occasional difterences will arise. In these disputes 
men are naturally too favorable to themselves, and 
think, perhaps, too hardly of their antagonists. But 
composed and constituted as we are, those little con- 
tentions will be lost to others, and they ought cer- 
tainly to be lost among ourselves in mutual esteem 
for talents and acquirements ; every controversy ought 
to be, and I am persuaded will be, sunk in our zeal 
for the perfection of our common art. 

In parting with the Academy, I shall remember 
with pride, afl"ection, and gratitude, the support with 
which I have almost uniformly been honored from 


the commencement of our intercourse. I shall leave 
you, gentlemen, with unaffected cordial wishes for 
your future concord, and with a well-founded hope 
that in that concord the auspicious and not obscure 
origin of our Academy may be forgotten in the 
splendor of your succeeding prospects. 

My age, and my infirmities still more than my age, 
make it probable that this will be the last time I shall 
have the honor of addressing you from this place. 
Excluded as I am, spatiis hiiquis, from indulging my 
imagination with a distant and forward perspective 
of life, I may be excused if I turn my eyes back on 
the way which I have passed. 

We may assume to ourselves, I should hope, the 
credit of having endeavored at least, to fill with pro- 
priety that middle station which we hold in the 
general connection of things. Our predecessors 
have labored for our advantage, we labor for our 
successors ; and though we have done no more in 
this mutual intercourse and reciprocation of benefits 
than has been effected by other societies formed in 
this nation for the advancement of useful and orna- 
mental knowledge, yet there is one circumstance 
which appears to give us an higher claim than the 
credit of merely doing our duty. What I at present 
allude to is the honor of having been, some of us, the 
first contrivers, and all of us the promoters and sup- 
porters of the annual Exhibition. This scheme could 
only have originated from artists already in possession 
of the favor of the public, as it would not have been 
so much in the power of others to have excited curi- 
osity. It must be remembered that, for the sake of 


bringing forward into notice concealed merit, they 
incurred the risk of producing ri\als to themselves; 
they voluntarily entered the lists, and ran the race 
a second time for the prize which they had already 

When we take a review of the several departments 
of the institution, I think we may safely congratulate 
ourselves on our good fortune in having hitherto seen 
the chairs of our professors filled with men of dis- 
tinguished abilities, and who have so well acquitted 
themselves of their duty in their several departments. 
I look upon it to be of importance that none of them 
should be ever left unfilled ; a neglect to provide 
for qualified persons is to produce a neglect of 

In this honorable rank of professors I have not 
presumed to class myself; though in the discourses 
which I have had the honor of delivering from this 
place, while in one respect I may be considered as 
a volunteer, in another view it seems as if I was in- 
voluntarily pressed into this service. If prizes were 
to be given, it appeared not only proper, but almost 
indispensably necessary, that something should be 
said by the President on the delivery of those prizes; 
and the President, for his own credit, would wish to 
say something more than mere words of compliment, 
which by being frequently repeated would soon 
become flat and uninteresting, and b\' being uttered 
to many would at last become a distinction to none. 
I thought, therefore, if I were to preface this compli- 
ment with some instructive observations on the art, 
when we crowned merit in the artists whom we re- 


warded, I might do something to animate and guide 
them in their future attempts. 

I am truly sensible how unequal I have been to the 
expression of my own ideas. To develop the latent 
excellences, and draw out the interior principles of 
our art requires more skill and practice in writing 
than is likely to be possessed by a man perpetually 
occupied in the use of the pencil and the pallet. It is 
for that reason, perhaps, that the sister art has had 
the advantage of better criticism. Poets are naturally 
writers of prose. They may be said to be practising 
only an inferior department of their own art when 
they are explaining and expatiating upon its most 
refined principles. But still such difficulties ought 
not to deter artists who are not prevented by other 
engagements from putting their thoughts in order as 
well as they can, and from giving to the pubHc the 
result of their experience. The knowledge which 
an artist has of his subject will more than compen- 
sate for any want of elegance in the manner of treat- 
ing it, or even of perspicuity, which is still more 
essential ; and I am convinced that one short essay 
written by a painter will contribute more to advance 
the theory of our art than a thousand volumes such 
as we sometimes see, the purpose of which appears to 
be rather to display the refinement of the author's 
own conceptions of impossible practice than to con- 
vey useful knowledge or instruction of any kind what- 
ever. An artist knows what is and what is not 
within the province of his art to perform, and is not 
likely to be forever teasing the poor student with the 
beauties of mixed passions, or to perplex him with 


an imaginary union of excellences incompatible with 
each other. 

To this work, however, I could not be said to come 
totally unprovided with materials. I had seen much, 
and I had thought much upon what I had seen ; I 
had something of an habit of investigation, and a 
disposition to reduce all that I observed and felt in 
my own mind to method and system ; but never 
having seen what I myself knew distinctly placed 
before me on paper, I knew nothing correctly. To 
put those ideas into something like order was, to my 
inexperience, no easy task. The composition, the 
ponere totum even of a single discourse, as well as of 
a single statue, was the most difficult part, as perhaps 
it is of every other art, and most requires the hand 
of a master. 

For the manner, whatever deficiency there was, I 
might reasonably expect indulgence ; but I thought 
it indispensably necessary well to consider the 
opinions which were to be given out from this place, 
and under the sanction of a Royal Academy ; I there- 
fore examined not only my own opinions, but likewise 
the opinions of others. I found in the course of this 
research many precepts and rules established in our 
art which did not seem to me altogether reconcilable 
with each other, yet each seemed in itself to have the 
same claim of being supported by truth and nature; 
and this claim, irreconcilable as the\' maybe thought, 
they do in reality alike possess. 

To clear away those difficulties and reconcile those 
contrary opinions it became necessary to distinguish 
the greater truth, as it xwax be called, from the lesser 



truth ; the larijer and more Hberal idea of nature 
from the more narrow and confined; that which ad- 
dresses itself to the imagination from that which is 
solely addressed to the eye. In consequence of this 
discrimination, the different branches of our art, to 
which those different truths were referred, were per- 
ceived to make so wide a separation, and put on so 
new an appearance, that they seemed scarcely to 
have proceeded from the same general stock. The 
different rules and regulations which presided over 
each department of art followed of course; every 
mode of excellence, from the grand style of the 
Roman and Florentine schools down to the lowest 
rank of still life, had its due weight and value — 
fitted some class or other ; and nothing was thrown 
away. By this disposition of our art into classes, 
that perplexity and confusion which I apprehend 
every artist has at some time experienced from the 
variety of styles and the variety of excellence with 
which he is surrounded, is, I should hope, in some 
measure removed, and the student better enabled 
to judge for himself what peculiarly belongs to his 
own particular pursuit. 

In reviewing my discourses, it is no small satis- 
faction to be assured that I have, in no part of them, 
lent my assistance to foster newly hatched, unfledged 
opinions, or endeavored to support paradoxes, how- 
ever tempting may have been their novelty, or 
however ingenious I might for the minute fancy 
them to be ; nor shall I, I hope, anywhere be found 
to have imposed on the minds of young students 
declamation for argument, a smooth period for a 


sound precept. I have pursued a plain and honest 
method ; I have taken up the art simply as I found 
it exemplified in the practice of the most approved 
painters. That approbation which the world has 
uniformly given I have endeavored to justify by 
such proofs as questions of this kind will admit; by 
the analogy which painting holds with the sister arts, 
and consequently, by the common congeniality which 
they all bear to our nature. And though in what 
has been done no new discovery is pretended, I may 
still flatter myself that from the discoveries which 
others have made by their own intuitive good sense 
and native rectitude of judgment, I have succeeded 
in establishing the rules and principles of our art 
on a more firm and lasting foundation than that on 
which they had formerly been placed. 

Without wishing to divert the student from the 
practice of his art to speculative theory, to make him 
a m.ere connoisseur instead of a painter, I cannot but 
remark that he will certainly find an account in con- 
sidering, once for all, on what ground the fabric of 
our art is built. Uncertain, confused, or erroneous 
opinions are not only detrimental to an artist in their 
immediate operation, but may possibly have very 
serious consequences, — may affect his conduct, and 
give a peculiar character (as it may be called) to his 
taste, and to his pursuits, through his whole life. 

I was acquainted at Rome, in the early part of my 
life, with a student of the French Academy who ap- 
peared to me to possess all the qualities requisite to 
make a great artist if he had suftered his taste and 
feelings, and I may add even his prejudices, to have 


fair play. He saw and felt the excellences of the 
great works of art with which we were surrounded, 
but lamented that there was not to be found that 
nature which is so admirable in the inferior schools ; 
and he supposed with Felibien, De Piles, and other 
theorists, that such a union of different excellences 
would be the perfection of art. He was not aware 
that the narrow idea of nature, of which he lamented 
the absence in the works of those great artists, would 
have destroyed the grandeur of the general ideas 
which he admired, and which was indeed the cause 
of his admiration. My opinions being then confused 
and unsettled, I was in danger of being borne down 
by this kind of plausible reasoning, though I re- 
member I then had a dawning of suspicion that it 
was not sound doctrine; and at the same time I was 
unwilling obstinately to refuse assent to what I was 
unable to confute. 

That the young artist may not be seduced from the 
right path by following what at first view he may 
think the light of reason, and which is indeed reason 
in part, but not in the whole, has been much the ob- 
ject of these discourses. 

I have taken every opportunity of recommending 
a rational method of study, as of the last importance. 
The great, I may say the sole use of an Academy is 
to put and for some time to keep students in that 
course that too much indulgence may not be given 
to peculiarity, and that a young man may not be 
taught to believe that what is generally good for 
others is not good for him. 

I have strongly inculcated in my former discourses, 


as I do in this my last, the wisdom and necessity of 
previously obtaining the appropriate instruments of 
the art, in a first correct desif^n and a plain, manly 
coloring, before anything more is attempted. But by 
this I would not wish to cramp and fetter the mind, 
or discourage those who follow (as most of us may 
at one time have followed) the suggestion of a strong 
inclination ; something must be conceded to great and 
irresistible impulses; perhaps every student must not 
be strictly bound to general methods, if they strongly 
thwart the peculiar turn of his own mind. I must 
confess that it is not absolutely of much consequence 
whether he proceeds in the general method of seek- 
ing first to acquire mechanical accuracy before he at- 
tempts poetical flights, provided he diligently studies 
to attain the full perfection of the style he pursues ; 
whether, like Parmegiano, he endeavors at grace and 
grandeur of manner before he has learned correctness 
of drawing, if like him he feels his own wants, and 
will labor, as that eminent artist did, to supply those 
wants ; whether he starts from the East or from the 
West, if he relaxes in no exertion to arrive ultimately 
at the same goal. The first public work of Parme- 
giano is the " Saint Eustachius," in the Church of St. 
Pctronius in Bologna, and was done when he was a 
boy ; and one of the last of his works is the " Moses 
Breaking the Tables," in Parma. In the former there 
is certainly something of grandeur in the outline, or 
in the conception of the figure, which discovers the 
dawnings of future greatness, — of a young mind im- 
pregnated with the sublimity of Michael Angelo, whose 
style he here attempts to imitate, though he could 


not then draw the human figure with any common 
degree of correctness. But this same Parmegiano, 
when in his more mature age he painted the " Moses," 
had so completely supplied his first defects that we 
are here at a loss which to admire most, the correct- 
ness of drawing or the grandeur of the conception. 
As a confirmation of its great excellence, and of the 
impression which it leaves on the minds of elegant 
spectators, I may observe that our great lyric poet, 
when he conceived his sublime idea of the indignant 
Welsh bard, acknowledged that, though many years 
had intervened, he had warmed his imagination with 
the remembrance of this noble figure of Parmegiano. 

When we consider that Michael Angelo was the 
great archetype to whom Parmegiano was indebted 
for that grandeur which we find in his works, and from 
whom all his contemporaries and successors have de- 
rived whatever they have possessed of the dignified 
and the majestic ; that he was the bright luminary, 
from whom painting has borrowed a new lustre ; that 
under his hands it assumed a new appearance, and is 
become another and superior art, — I may be excused 
if I take this opportunity, as I have hitherto taken 
every occasion, to turn your attention to this exalted 
founder and father of modern art, of which he was 
not only the inventor, but which, by the divine energy 
of his own mind, he carried at once to its highest 
point of possible perfection. 

The sudden maturity to which Michael Angelo 
brought our art, and the comparative feebleness of 
his followers and imitators, might perhaps be reason- 
ably, at least plausibly explained, if we had time for 


such an examination. At present I shall only ob- 
serve that the subordinate parts of our art, and per- 
haps of other arts, expand themselves by a slow and 
progressive growth; but those which depend on a 
native vigor of imagination generally burst forth at 
once in fulness of beauty. Of this Homer probably, 
and Shakespeare more assuredly, are singular exam- 
ples. Michael Angelo possessed the poetical part of 
our art in a most eminent degree; and the same dar- 
ing spirit which urged him first to explore the un- 
known regions of the imagination, delighted with the 
novelty, and animated by the success of his discov- 
eries, could not have failed to stimulate and impel 
him forward in his career beyond those limits which 
his followers, destitute of the same incentives, had not 
strength to pass. 

To distinguish between correctness of drawing and 
that part which respects the imagination, we may say 
the one approaches to the mechanical (which in its 
way, too, may make just pretensions to genius), and 
the other to the poetical. To encourage a solid and 
vigorous course of study, it may not be amiss to sug- 
gest that perhaps a confidence in the mechanic pro- 
duces a boldness in the poetic. He that is sure of 
the goodness of his ship and tackle puts out fearlessly 
from the shore ; and he who knows that his hand can 
execute whatever his fancy can suggest, sports with 
more freedom in embodying the visionary forms of 
his own creation. I will not say Michael Angelo was 
eminently poetical only because he was greatly me- 
chanical, but I am sure that mechanic excellence in- 
vigorated and em»boldencd his mind to carr}' painting 


into, the regions of poetry, and to emulate that art in 
its most adventurous flights. Michael Angelo equally 
oossessed both qualifications. Yet of mechanic excel- 
lence there were certainly great examples to be found 
in ancient sculpture, and particularly in the fragment 
known by the name of the " Torso" of Michael An- 
gelo ; but of that grandeur of character, air, and atti- 
tude, which he threw into all his figures, and which 
so well corresponds with the grandeur of his outline, 
there was no example ; it could therefore proceed only 
from the most poetical and sublime imagination. 

It is impossible not to express some surprise that 
the race of painters who preceded Michael Angelo, 
men of acknowledged great abilities, should never 
have thought of transferring a little of that grandeur 
of outline which they could not but see and admire 
in ancient sculpture, into their own works ; but they 
appear to have considered sculpture as the later 
schools of artists look at the inventions of Michael 
Angelo, — as something to be admired, but with which 
they have nothing to do ; giiod super iios, niJiil ad 
nos. The artists of that age, even Raphael himself, 
seemed to be going on very contentedly in the dry 
manner of Pietro Perugino ; and if Michael Angelo 
had never appeared, tlie art might still have con- 
tinued in the same style. 

Besides Rome and Florence, where the grandeur 
of this style v/as first displayed, it was on this foun- 
dation that the Caracci built the truly great Academi- 
cal Bolognian school, of which the first stone was 
laid by Pellegrino Tibaldi. He first introduced this 
st}'le among them ; and many instances might be 


given in which he appears to have possessed, as by- 
inheritance, the true, genuine, noble, and elevated 
mind of Michael Angelo. Though we cannot venture 
to speak of him with the same fondness as his coun- 
trymen, and call him, as the Caracci did, nostra 
Michael Angelo riformato, yet he has a right to be 
considered among the first and greatest of his fol- 
lowers ; there arc certainly many drawings and in- 
ventions of his of which Michael Angelo himself 
might not disdain to be supposed the author, or that 
they should be, as in fact they often are, mistaken for 
his. I will mention one particular instance, because 
it is found in a book which is in every young artist's 
hand, — Bishop's " Ancient Statues." He there has 
introduced a print representing Polyphemus, from a 
drawing of Tibaldi, and has inscribed it with the name 
of Michael Angelo, to whom he has also in the same 
book attributed a Sybil of Raphael. Both these fig- 
ures, it is true, are professedly in Michael Angelo's 
style and spirit, and even worthy of his hand. But 
we know that the former is painted in the Institute a 
Bologna by Tibaldi, and the other in the Pace by 

The Caracci. it is acknowledged, adopted the me- 
chanical part with sufficient success. But the divine 
part which addresses itself to the imagination, as pos- 
sessed by Michael Angelo or Tibaldi, was beyond 
their grasp. They formed, however, a most respect- 
able school, a stxle more on the level, and calculated 
to please a greater number; and if excellence of this 
kind is to be valued according to the number rather 
than the weight and quTility of admirers, it would as- 


sume even a higher rank in art. The same, in some 
sort, may be said of Tintoret, Paolo Veronese, and 
others of the Venetian painters. They certainly much 
advanced the dignity of their style by adding to their 
fascinating powers of coloring something of the 
strength of Michael Angelo ; at the same time it 
may still be a doubt how far their ornamental ele- 
gance would be an advantageous addition to his 
grandeur. But if there is any manner of painting 
which may be said to unite kindly with his style, it is 
that of Titian.^ His handling, the manner in which 
his colors are left on the canvas, appears to proceed 
(as far as that goes) from a congenial mind, equally 
disdainful of vulgar criticism. 

Michael Angelo's strength, thus qualified and 
made more palatable to the general taste, reminds 
me of an observation which I heard a learned critic 
make, when it was incidentally remarked that our 
translation of Homer, however excellent, did not con- 
vey the character, nor had the grand air of the origi- 
nal. He replied that if Pope had not clothed the 
naked majesty of Homer with the graces and ele- 
gancies of modern fashions, though the real dignity of 
Homer was degraded by such a dress, his translation 
Avould not have met with such a favorable reception, 
and he must have been contented with fewer readers. 

Many of the Flemish painters who studied at 
Rome in that great era of our art — such as Francis 

1 Titian, wlien nearly seventy, visited Rome and saw Michael An- 
gelo. He said, in after years, that " he had greatly improved after 
he had been at Rome." Titian's life was " one long education." He 
painted until his dying hour, and declared at the last that "he was 
then only beginning to understand what painting was." 


Rloris, Hemskirk, Michael Coxis, Jerom Cock, and 
others — returned to their own country with as much 
of this grandeur as they could carry. But like seeds 
falling on a soil not prepared or adapted to their 
nature, the manner of Michael Angelo thrived but 
little with them ; perhaps, however, they contrib- 
uted to prepare the way for that free, unconstrained, 
and liberal outline, which was afterwards introduced 
by Rubens through the medium of the Venetian 

The grandeur of st}'le has been in different degrees 
disseminated over all Europe. Some caught it by 
living at the time, and coming into contact with the 
original author, while others received it at second 
hand ; and being everywhere adopted, it has totally 
changed the whole taste and style of design, if there 
could be said to be any style before his time. Our 
art, in consequence, now assumes a rank to which it 
could never have dared to aspire if Michael Angelo 
had not discovered to the world the hidden powers 
which it possessed. Without his assistance we never 
could have been convinced that painting was capable 
of producing an adequate representation of the per- 
sons and actions of the heroes of the Iliad. 

I would ask any man qualified to judge of such 
works whether he can look with indifference at the 
personification of the Supreme Being in the centre 
of the Capclla Sistina, or the figures of the sybils 
which surround that chapel, to which we max- add 
the statue of Moses ; and whether the same sensa- 
tions arc not excited by those works as what he may 
remember to have felt from the most sublime pas- 


sages of Homer. I mention those figures more par- 
ticularly, as they come nearer to a comparison with 
his Jupiter, his clemi-gods, and heroes, — those sybils 
and prophets being a kind of intermediate beings be- 
tween men and angels. Though instances may be 
produced in the works of other painters which may 
justly stand in competition with those I have men- 
tioned, such as the " Isaiah '" and the " Vision of 
Ezekiel," by Raphael, the " Saint Mark" of Fra Bar- 
tolomeo, and many others, yet these, it must be 
allowed, are inventions so much in Michael An- 
gelo's manner of thinking that they may be truly 
considered as so many rays, which discover mani- 
festly the centre from whence they emanated. 

The sublime in painting, as in poetry, so over- 
powers, and takes such a possession of the whole 
mind, that no room is left for attention to minute 
criticism. The little elegances of art in the presence 
of these great ideas thus greatly expressed lose all 
their value, and are, for the instant at least, felt to be 
unworthy of our notice. The correct judgment, the 
purity of taste which characterize Raphael, the ex- 
quisite grace of Correggio and Parmegiano, all dis- 
appear before them. 

That Michael Angelo was capricious in his inven- 
tions cannot be denied ; and this may make some 
circumspection necessary in studying his works ; for 
though they appear to become him, an imitation of 
them is always dangerous, and will prove sometimes 
ridiculous. " Within that circle none durst walk but 
he." To me, I confess his caprice does not lower 
the estimation of his genius, even though it is some- 


times, I acknowledge, carried to the extreme ; and 
however those eccentric excursions are considered, 
we must at the same time recollect that those faults, 
if they are faults, are such as never could occur to 
a mean and vulgar mind ; that they flowed from the 
same source which produced his greatest beauties, 
and were therefore such as none but himself was 
capable of committing; they were the pow^erful im- 
pulses of a mind unused to subjection of any kind, 
and too high to be controlled by cold criticism. 

Many see his daring extravagance who can see 
nothing else. A young artist finds the works of 
Michael Angelo so totally different from those of his 
own master, or of those with whom he is surrounded, 
that he may be easily persuaded to abandon and neg- 
lect stud)'ing a style which appears to him wild, 
mysterious, and above his comprehension, and which 
he therefore feels no disposition to admire, — a good 
disposition, which he concludes that he should 
naturally have if the style deserved it. It is neces- 
sary, therefore, that students should be prepared 
for the disappointment which they may experience 
at their first setting out; and they must be cau- 
tioned that probably they will not at first sight 

It must be remembered that this great style itself 
is artificial in the highest degree; it presupposes in 
the spectator a cultivated and prepared artificial 
state of mind. It is an absurdity, therefore, to sup- 
pose that we are born with this taste, — though we 
are with the seeds of it, which by the heat and kindly 
influence of this genius may be ripened in us. 


A late philosopher and critic ^ has observed, speak- 
ing of taste, that " we are on no account to expect 
that fine things should descend to us;" our taste, 
if possible, must be made to ascend to them. The 
same learned writer recommends to us " even to 
feign a relish till we find a relish come, and feel 
that what began in fiction terminates in reality." 
If there be in our art anything of that agreement or 
compact, such as I apprehend there is in music, with 
which the critic is necessarily required previously to 
be acquainted in order to form a correct judgment, 
the comparison with this art will illustrate what I 
have said on these points, and tend to show the 
probability, we may say the certainty, that men are 
not born with a relish for those arts in their most 
refined state, which as they cannot understand, they 
cannot be impressed with their eff'ects. This great 
style of Michael Angelo is as far removed from 
the simple representation of the common objects 
of nature as the most refined Italian music is from 
the inartificial notes of nature, from whence they 
both profess to originate.^ But without such a sup- 
posed compact, W'C may be very confident that the 
highest state of refinement in either of those arts 
will not be relished without a long and industrious 

1 James Harris. 

2 The mind of Michael Angelo is by far the best example of what 
a human mind may be when entirely occupied with ideas of grandeur 
— a noble mind, yet not such as any generally intelligent person 
would wish to possess. Too exclusively preoccupied by visions of 
sublimity to enjoy either the humor of life or the beauty of the com- 
mon world, Michael Angelo lived above the zone in which life gives 
its pleasantest and most varied fruits. — Uamerton. 


In pursuing this great art it must be acknowl- 
edged that we labor under greater difficulties than 
those who were born in the age of its discover}', and 
whose minds from their infancy were habituated to 
this style, — who learned it as language, as their 
mother tongue. They had no mean taste to un- 
learn; they needed no persuasive discourse to allure 
them to a favorable reception of it, no abstruse in- 
vestigation of its principles to convince them of the 
great latent truths on which it is founded. We are 
constrained, in these latter days, to have recourse to 
a sort of grammar and dictionary, as the only means 
of recovering a dead language. It was by them 
learned by rote, and perhaps better learned that way 
than by precept. 

The style of Michael Angelo, which I have com- 
pared to language, and which may, poetically speak- 
ing, be called the language of the gods, now no 
longer exists, as it did in the fifteenth century; yet, 
with the aid of diligence, we may in a great measure 
supply the deficiency which I mentioned — that of 
not having his works so perpetually before our eyes 
— by having recourse to casts from his models and 
designs in sculpture ; to drawings, or even copies of 
those drawings ; to prints, which, however ill exe- 
cuted, still convey something b)' which this taste 
ma}' be formed, and a relish may be fixed and estab- 
lished in our minds for this grand style of inven- 
tion. Some examples of this kind we have in the 
Academy, and I sincerely wish there were more, 
that the younger students might in their first nour- 
ishment imbibe this taste, while others, though set- 


tied in the practice of the commonplace style of 
painters, might infuse, by this means, a grandeur into 
their works. 

I shall now make some remarks on the course 
which I think most proper to be pursued in such a 
study. I wish you not to go so much to the deriva- 
tive streams as to the fountain-head, — though the 
copies are not to be neglected, because they may 
give you hints in what manner you may copy, and 
how the genius of one man may be made to fit the 
peculiar manner of another. 

To recover this lost taste, I would recommend 
young artists to study the works of Michael Angelo, 
as he himself did the works of the ancient sculptors; 
he began when a child a copy of a mutilated Satyr's 
head, and finished in his model what was wanting in 
the original. In the same manner the first exercise 
that I would recommend to the young artist when he 
first attempts invention is to select every figure, if 
possible, from the inventions of Michael Angelo. 
If such borrowed figures will not bend to his pur- 
pose, and he is constrained to make a change to 
supply a figure himself, that figure will necessarily 
be in the same style with the rest; and his taste will 
by this means be naturally initiated, and nursed in 
the lap of grandeur. He will sooner perceive what 
constitutes this grand style by one practical trial 
than by a thousand speculations, and he will in 
some sort procure to himself the advantage which 
in these later ages have been denied him, — the advan- 
tage of having the greatest of artists for his master 
and instructor. 


The next lesson should be to change the purpose 
of the figures without changing the attitude ; as 
Tintoret has done with the " Samson " of Michael 
Angelo. Instead of the figure which Samson be- 
strides, he has placed an eagle under him ; and 
instead of the jaw-bone, thunder and lightning in 
his right hand ; and thus it becomes a Jupiter. Titian 
in the same manner has taken the figure which rep- 
resents God dividing the light from the darkness in 
the vault of the Capella Sistina, and has introduced 
it in the famous " Battle of Cadore," so much cele- 
brated by Vasari ; and extraordinary as it may seem, 
it is here converted to a general falling from his 
horse. A real judge who should look at this pic- 
ture would immediately pronounce the attitude of 
that figure to be in a greater style than any other 
figure of the composition. These two instances 
may be sufficient, though many more might be 
given in their works, as well as in those of other 
great artists. 

When the student has been habituated to this 
grand conception of the art, when the relish for this 
style is established, makes a part of himself, and is 
woven into his mind, he will by this time have got 
a power of selecting from whatever occurs in nature 
that is grand, and corresponds with that taste which 
he has now acquired, and will pass over whatever 
is commonplace and insipid. He may then bring to 
the mart such works of his own proper invention as 
may enrich and increase the general stock of invention 
in our art. 

I am confident of the truth and propriety of the 


advice which I have recommended; at the same time 
I am aware how much by this advice I have laid my- 
self open to the sarcasms of those critics who imagine 
our art to be a matter of inspiration. But I should 
be sorry it should appear even to myself that I 
wanted that courage which I have recommended to 
the students in another way; equal courage, perhaps, 
is required in the adviser and the advised; they both 
must equally dare and bid defiance to narrow criticism 
and vulgar opinion. 

That the art has been in a gradual state of decline 
from the age of Michael Angelo to the present must 
be acknowledged ; and we may reasonably impute 
this declension to the same cause to which the 
ancient critics and philosophers have imputed the 
corruption of eloquence. Indeed, the same causes 
are likely at all times and in all ages to produce the 
same effects; indolence, not taking the same pains 
as our great predecessors took, desiring to find a 
shorter way, are the general imputed causes. The 
words of Petronius^ are very remarkable. After op- 
posing the natural chaste beauty of the eloquence of 
former ages to the strained, inflated style then in 
fashion, " neither," says he, " has the art of painting 
had a better fate, after the boldness of the Egyptians 
had found out a compendious way to execute so 
great an art." 

By coinpc7idio7is I understand him to mean a mode 
of painting such as has infected the style of the later 
painters of Italy and France, — commonplace, without 

1 Pictiira qiioqiie non alium exitium fecit, i:)ostquam /Egyptiorum 
audacia tarn magnae artis compendiaiiam invenit. 


thought, and with as Httle trouble ; working as by 
a receipt, — in contradistinction to that style for which 
even a relish cannot be acquired without care and 
long attention, and most certainly the power of 
executing cannot be obtained without the most 
laborious application. 

I have endeavored to stimulate the ambition of 
artists to tread in this great path of glory, and, as 
well as I can, have pointed out the track which leads 
to it, and have at the same time told them the price 
at which it may be obtained. It is an ancient saying 
that labor is the price which the gods ha\e set upon 
everything valuable. 

The great artist who has been so much the subject 
of the present discourse was distinguished even from 
his infancy for his indefatigable diligence ; and this 
was continued through his whole life, till prevented 
by extreme old age. The poorest of men, as he 
observed himself, did not labor from necessity more 
than he did from choice. Indeed, from all the cir- 
cumstances related of his life, he appears not to have 
had the least conception that his art was to be ac- 
quired by any other means than great labor; and 
yet he, of all men that ever lived, might make the 
greatest pretensions to the efficacy of native genius 
and inspiration. I have no doubt that he would have 
thought it no disgrace that it should be said of him, 
as he himself said of Raphael, that he did not possess 
his art from nature, but by long study. ^ He was con- 
scious that the great excellence to which he arrived 
was gained by dint of labor, and was unwilling to have 

1 Che Raffaelle tion ebbe quest' arle </</ natura, ma per lor^o studio. 


it thought that any transcendent skill, however natu- 
ral its effects might seem, could be purchased at a 
cheaper price than he had paid for it. This seems to 
have been the true drift of his observation. We can- 
not suppose it made with any attention of depreciat- 
ing the genius of Raphael, of whom he always spoke, 
as Condivi says, with the greatest respect. Though 
they were rivals, no such illiberality existed between 
them ; and Raphael, on his part, entertained the great- 
est veneration for Michael Angelo, as appears from 
the speech which is recorded of him, that he con- 
gratulated himself, and thanked God, that he was born 
in the same age with that painter. 

If the high esteem and veneration in which Michael 
Angelo has been held by all nations and in all ages 
should be put to the account of prejudice, it must 
still be granted that those prejudices could not have 
been entertained without a cause; the ground of our 
prejudice, then, becomes the source of our admira- 
tion. But from whatever it proceeds, or whatever it 
is called, it will not, I hope, be thought presumptuous 
in me to appear in the train, I cannot say of his imi- 
tators, but of his admirers. I have taken another 
course, one more suited to my abilities, and to the 
taste of the times in which I live. Yet however 
unequal I feel myself to that attempt, were I now 
to begin the world again, I would tread in the 
steps of that great master ; to kiss the hem of his 
garment, to catch the slightest of his perfections, 
would be glory and distinction enough for an am- 
bitious man. 

I feel a self-congratulation in knowing m}' self capa- 


ble of such sensations as he intended to excite. I 
reflect, not without vanity, that these discourses bear 
testimony of my admiration of that truly divine man ; 
and I should desire that the last words which I should 
pronounce in this Academy, and from this place, might 
be the name of — MiCHAEL AngelO.^ 

1 These words proved prophetic. As Sir Joshua closed, it is re- 
lated that Edmund Burke stepped from the crowded and brilliant 
audience, and grasping his hand, whispered Milton's lines: — 

" The angel ended, and in Adam's ear 
So charming left his voice, that lie awhile 
Thought him still speaking, still stood fix'd to hear." 




'^ 100 MrC\iJL STREET